Let's Ordain Adam

Adam Walker-Cleaveland.pngMy friend, Adam Walker-Cleaveland, has once again been thwarted in his attempt to be ordained as a “minister of word and sacrament” in the Presbyterian Church (USA). First it was because his presbytery in Idaho objected that he asked his best friend, who happens to be gay, to preach at his ordination service. Now it’s because his new presbytery in California says that his M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary — a PC(USA) seminary!!! — isn’t good enough.

Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity. When rules and regulations trump common sense, then the shark has officially been jumped.

But what gets to me even more is that bright, competent, and pastorally experienced persons like Adam continue to submit themselves to these sinful systems. They assure me that it’s not for the health insurance or the pension. They do it cuz they feel “called.” And if I hear another person tell me that they’re sticking with their abusive denomination because, “They’re my tribe,” I’m gonna go postal.

So, it’s time for us to do something. It’s time for us, the body of Christ, to ordain Adam. To that end, I’ve started a petition, beseeching Adam to quit the PC(USA) ordination circus and to accept our ordination of him.

  • http://www.parishpoet.com Carl Holmes

    Heaven forgive me if I ever say I am sticking to a denomination because “they are my tribe” I belong to one tribe, Christianity.
    I proudly add my signature, and I hope he finds a church soon that will take that hard earned degree and pastoral heart and put it to use in the kingdom.

  • http://www.sarcasticlutheran.com Nadia

    O now Tony you know your friend Nadia has some words to say about babies and bathwater.
    I agree that denominational systems are often a hindrance rather than a help to the Gospel. But let me remind you that the ELCA ordained me…ME! They broke a lot of rules for me to do what I do. My denominational system actually has made it possible for House for All Sinners and Saints to start up. Sometimes denominations get things wrong. Sometimes we get them right.
    Adam should be ordained, I will sign.
    And of course disagreeing with you is a bright spot in my day.

  • http://rudetheology.com/ Mike Croghan

    Tony, I feel a little guilty about this, I must admit – I share your exasperation with denominational systems (boy howdy, I do), and I think my piss-offedness is well-founded, but I still worry that in jumping on this bandwagon I’m indulging my own bitterness. I don’t want to do that, nor do I want to publicly disagree with my many friends who are committed to working within these systems.
    Ah, frak it, yes I do. Petition signed. Adam, God bless your ordained ministry. Screw you, PCUSA.

  • http://jhimm.net/wabi_sabi Jim Marks

    I know a way to end all the denominational mess, but no one ever thinks it is a good idea. Having denominations gives people identity.

  • Roger Wolsey

    I hear you Tony, but I respect people who stick with denominational systems instead of cutting and running. It’s easier to change a system from the inside and we need people like Adam on the inside of the PCUSA.

  • http://emergingumc.blogspot.com Taylor Burton-Edwards

    As liturgical officer for the United Methodist Church, co-author of our ordinal (though I have nothing to do with the “vetting” process itself), and perhaps the only person in my denomination with the emerging missional church in my job description and budget, I come to this question with pretty deep commitments. And not a few frustrations.
    But what I keep coming back to is that incarnation, and so real communities of the faith, and the ways they have decided to live out their lives as communities, really do matter.
    So I think it’s not “our role” simply as Christians to ordain Adam or anyone. It really is the role of the ordaining authority in each place to decide how it will order its household. Why? Because Adam is not seeking to carry out a ministry of word and sacrament with all of us generally. He really is seeking to carry this out within a particular, real, incarnate community, which in his case happens to be in California in the PCUSA.
    Every incarnate community and structure is flawed. Some are more deeply flawed than others. Every congregation in which Adam has served or will served is likewise flawed. This does not excuse bad behavior. I do not know whether the presbytery in California has exercised good behavior or bad behavior in their decision to defer Adam at this time. I know I have seen cases in my own denomination where Boards of Ordained Ministry have exercised a highly legalistic and abusive approach to persons being considered for ordination. I have also seen examples where they have acted with wisdom and grace.
    My point is this. There is no actual body of Christ apart from the various instantiations of that body that really exist. If we across the emerging missional networks that have formed were to create our own processes for ordaining people, they would be no less subject to sin and institutionalization in both good ways and bad ways than the existing systems are. But so far we have not created even that. So we have no real set of communities to set Adam or anyone else apart for as a minister of word and sacrament.
    Denominations are deeply problematic in many ways. I’m not defending their abuses, their slowness to adapt, or at times their willingness to trade in the truth of the gospel handed down for the latest marketing gimmick. There are ordaining authorities that are “independent” and there are some “networky” ordaining authorities out there as well. But all of them– with the exception of the mail-order ordination factories– have this in common: they represent real communities of real people who have really in real time banded together to discern the kind of leadership they need from their pastors– the pastors THEY will receive as their actual leaders.
    So until there are more mature systems in place across our larger emerging missional networks (or Christian networks generally) that can actually perform that role– and right now they’re a long way off– ordination is, I think, not ours to offer.

  • http://blakehuggins.com Blake Huggins

    Man, this is just ridiculous. I really struggle with the denominations and denominational-ism, this would be a major reason why. I’ll avoid throwing out the word “tribe” though. ;) You’ve got my signature.

  • http://ucc.org jestrfyl

    Though I am sure he is already aware of us, remind Adam that the UCC is far more open to all sorts of people. As does every denomination, we need well trained (Princeton!) and well prepared clergy. Though all of us must meet a “Fitness for Ministry” standard and basic security check, I expect he will have no problem with this. So suggest he contact a local UCC church or even the Conference office – they can be found at the above web address. I look forward to seeing his name in the ranks of newly ordained and installed pastors.

  • Charlie

    It seems to me that denominations are well worth entertaining as long as they are used as an efficient means of ministering to/for the kingdom God. In the case of the House for All in Denver, there is an example of denominations working. Such examples are the best argument for “theological brand loyalty.” However, when those tools get in the way of the kingdom, as they seem to be in Adam’s case, they ought to be thrown out like so many rusted hammers and screwdrivers. Keeping them around in those moments where the tool becomes an obstacle is tantamount to idolatry in my, not so, humble opinion.
    Congrats, Rev. Walker-Cleaveland!

  • http://matybigfro.blogspot.com matybigfro

    Gotta agree with you on this one Tony
    I’ve spent a fair bit of time hanging with different bits of the Anglican Church of England and they’re great (man i sound like that crazy tiger), I love ‘em loads they’ve got some totally awesome Bishops at the moment and really am thankful for faithful radicals (some who are now the afore mentioned Bishies) who have stuck in there and renewed the centre’s.
    But i grew up in one those crazy independent new churches it’s in my bones to be like if the spirit’s leading follow and you don’t always have to ask for permission. I always find it somewhat funny how even the most radical thinkers sometimes have a really clear denominational boot print on their head (not that I’m suggesting that that is the case with Adam) But there’s definitely away in which a environment starts to frame your imagination. I get why some people are afraid of independence ‘cos of issues of accountability and such (but i’m not convinced a structure is anymore safe just mistakes often happen in different way’s)
    I’m definitely not one to be saying lets burn the denominations down – and I’m all for celebrating the wonderful work of the spirit inside them, but their like totally not the be all and end all of the work of God in the world (or even just in the church). And unless you have like writing on the wall style revelation I just do not think people should stay in an institution that is hurting and abusing them. Allitle bit of anarchism does everyone some good and often gets things moving

  • Lars Rood

    Tony- I follow Adam on twitter and have seen his updates as he goes through this process. I don’t know Adam at all so I’m going to assume that he’s a great guy and someone who loves the Lord. I agree that denominations sometimes/oftentimes have hoops that jumping through doesn’t make sense. I am in the PCUSA, have been a part of the ordination process, stopped and am thinking about going back in. Unfortunately these “hoops” can be very frustrating and in Adams case I think that his frustrations appear to have some merit. I wonder though at what point though your statement about asking his best friend to preach his ordination service who “Happened to be gay” isn’t a way to minimize that which is a huge issue. Although I’m not close to this situation it seems to me that is a fairly galvanizing decision on Adam’s part that he had to know was going to make pretty big waves through his ordination committee. It’s unfortunate that this has happened though but both Adam and his committees have made decisions that are clearly creating roadblocks to his ordination process.
    I guess the main frustration here is who gets to be the gatekeeper of this process. In the PCUSA it is a group of people who are pledged to evaluate candidates. I’m going to hope that this group did so correctly and has come up with their standards. I hope that Adam doesn’t get to frustrated with the process that he decides to quit. Although part of the “discernment of the call” does allow for seeing if these roadblocks hinder us from moving ahead.
    I do think it admirable that you care. He’s your friend and you share his frustration.

  • Mark

    I know lots of people who didn’t make it through the ordination process, some for very good reasons, others not so much. I don’t know Adam. He is probably a very good guy and a worthy candidate. But his worthiness is not really the point, is it? He has submitted himself to discernment of a larger community. They have covenanted together to enter a process of discernment. This does not gurantee a smooth ride or even the right outcome in every individual case. And yes, of course, some bodies abuse the power entrusted to them. That is true of any human system, structured or not. So my question is, if we ordain Adam as the body of Christ, what about all the others who are having a hard time or didn’t get ordained? Are we going to ordain them too? Or just the one’s we know and like? What will keep us from abusing the authority we are giving ourselves?

  • Sara

    Tony:
    Didn’t what you call the “sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity” fund your PhD? Aren’t you biting the hand that feeds you?

  • Sara

    Tony:
    Haven’t you repeatedly stated that you don’t believe in ordination anymore? Aren’t you being a bit hypocritical? Why do you support Adam’s ordination, but not ordination in general? Are you doing so just because it helps with your anti-denominationalist agenda?

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/churchbasementroadshow/ Tony Jones

    Yes, Mark, I’m saying that we should ordain everyone into ministry.
    Yes, Sara, I am biting the hand that has fed me. But, hopefully, I won’t let money sully my integrity.
    Nadia, you’re the exception that proves the rule.

  • ben w.

    I know not too many readers are friendly with the SBC, but from a Baptist perspective, ordination by a denomination is as silly as ordination by online-petition. Ideally, “ordination” – whatever that really means – should be the affirmation of the people in a local church that they respect, revere this man as a teacher / elder among the body. If Adam dropped out of school at 3rd Grade, but has devoted his life to knowing the Scriptures and exhibits an evident Christian maturity and love for Christ so that the church can gladly submit to his leadership and teaching, then they should “ordain” him or recognize him as an elder in their church. But I can’t sign the petition because I don’t know Adam from Adam, and really have no business telling another church that this man should be their leader.
    Again, for a Baptist, the denomination is bottom-up, so it’s a completely voluntary organization that local churches cooperate with in order to consolidate missions-resources, pastoral training and care for retired pastors. I’m not happy with everything the SBC does, but I appreciate it on the whole and want to participate in it to see it continually become more faithful and more useful to God.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com Ted Seeber

    One of the big things that bugs me about the emergence movement and others like it, is this incessant need they seem to have to bang other people over the head with sin and force others into their belief system.
    Hate to say it, but it bugs me because I often do it also.
    This reminds me greatly of the whole gay/atheist/boy scout thing a few years ago. Face facts- a church, denomination, or service organization is a *volunteer* thing that can be as exclusionary or inclusionary as they like, and nothing’s going to change that.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com Ted Seeber

    Oh, and I’ve got to throw in the Catholic perspective here- without Apostolic Authority and an unbroken line of patriarchs going back to the Apostles, what you Protestants call ordination and the Sacrament of Holy Orders are two ENTIRELY different things to begin with. So why the heck not democratize the Protestant version? It’s not like you guys believe in the Monarchy of Christ the Once And Future King and the temporal Kingdom of Christ presided over his Vicar anymore.

  • craig

    Tony,
    I’ve heard you rail against the Gnosticisms of contemporary evangelicals who frame a faith disconnected from the real world. I guess I see the same Gnostic denials of the real world in this kind of rejection of denominational structures. Where do we go for systems free from sin and bureaucracy? Wherever there are systems there is sin and the anti-system is not an option, at least not a real-world option. Ordination by web-poll just doesn’t cut it. It takes real people in real communities embodying a very real gospel to do the hard work of identifying, nurturing, confirming and calling people to certain roles.
    Let the local church he serves ordain him in defiance of the Presbytery and as a rejection of the sin of the systems that are very real, but please spare me the collective voice of the internet ethers as a valid voice in this matter.
    What becomes of a faith that embraces all of the world except for the church in all of its varied and very real forms? You end up with an individualistic, self-serving, pseudo-Gnostic still born witness to the very real power of the gospel among real people in real places.

  • Alan K

    Tony,
    I agree that everyone is “called” but there is this thing that Paul addresses called leadership. What is to be our criteria for those who lead the “called” out into the world?
    I know that each Presbytery is different and that each Committee on Preparation for Ministry makes its own determination regarding the fitness of each candidate. For whatever reason, the CPM had doubts regarding Adam’s fitness educational-wise.
    I must say that if I was on the CPM I would have been mystified as to how after four years of seminary Adam had yet to take Greek Exegesis. I would be mystified that Princeton would confer the MDiv without his having done this coursework.
    Granted, the list they gave him does strike one as piling on, especially the history. But a good four out of the seven are Bible courses which makes me think the committee saw something deficient in his coursework. We Presbyterians ordain to Minister of Word and Sacrament. Rightly or wrongly, our tradition prizes the ability to proclaim the scriptures by its leaders. This would be no surprise to Adam. Certainly in being “called” to become Minster of Word and Sacrament, Adam would know that he would be expected to become a Bible scholar of sorts.
    What is not clear in Adam’s posting are the classes he did take at Princeton. Evidently the CPM was not impressed enough. Princeton grads get ordained by San Francisco Presbytery all the time, so the CPM must have judged that even though Adam did four years it may not have been the right kind of four years.
    When I was thinking of getting ordained I was planning to go to a non-Presbyterian seminary. I went before my CPM ahead of time to find out for certain what were their expectations of me, especially since I was not going in-house for my theological education. Did Adam ever do this?
    I feel for Adam. More time and money at a time like now seems insulting. But presbyteries routinely send candidates with MDivs (even from Princeton) for more schooling because they judge these candidates are not quite ready education-wise. Can Adam trust those who are entrusted with ensuring that he is prepared for the next step?
    Ted, we Presbyterians certainly believe in apostolic authority. Even Bishop Lightfoot concluded that in the NT the bishop was another name for elder.

  • DENNIS WOODSMALL

    You need to get all the facts.

  • Sara

    Tony, you wrote: “Yes, Sara, I am biting the hand that has fed me. But, hopefully, I won’t let money sully my integrity.”
    Thank you for your reply, but it begs many other questions.
    Are you willing to accept all the funding that supports your PhD education at PTS, but then turn around and reject that very system as “sinful”? Are you trying to say that you’re some kind of martyr for your integrity? Are you saying that part of your martyrdom includes rejecting the system that supports your PhD?
    Are you refusing to let your gratitude sully your self-righteousness? Are you refusing to let reality sully your utopian dream of a sinless Emergent Church? Are you refusing to let charitability sully your war against denominations? Are you refusing to let the voices of dissent sully your certitude? Are you refusing to let postmodernity sully your “if you’re not with me then you’re with the sinners” attitude?

  • http://jhimm.net/wabi_sabi Jim Marks

    Brian,
    Can you name one passage of scripture that affirms the schisms which have resulted in the myriad denominations with which we are now saddled? To claim denominations are “affirmative and inclusive” is a contradiction in terms. These splits exist exclusively as the result of rejection and exclusion. Group A is “more right” than Group B, they schism, behold, new denominations. Even “nondenominational” is a schism away from all the schisms.
    The Church is THE (singular) Bride of Christ. We are called to unity. None of us has perfect or complete understanding and it is through our insatiable hunger for idols that we have allowed this cancer to spread for 1500 years.

  • Ted Seeber

    Yes, Jim, it appears that The Bride of Christ has become the Bickering Harem of Christ. But I’d point out two things to you as well: It’s only been about 1100 years since the split between East and West over the filoque, and it took another 600 years after that before the Reformation- but in the last 500 years we’ve seen more than 30,000 denominations grow up, basically around incompatible interpretations of Scripture.
    What caused these incompatible interpretations of scripture? The hetrodox doctrine of Sola Scriptura that paradoxally claims simultaneously that there are no more prophets (and thus, the canon of scripture is closed) and that everybody is a prophet (and thus, can interpret scripture on their own).
    8 schisms before, 30,000 schisms after this extremely damaging doctrine.

  • http://www.comingtolife.blogspot.com Mike Stavlund

    A great– and funny!– post, Tony.
    And a friendly note to several commenters: Tony is *not* suggesting that Adam be ordained by the PCUSA, but by the Church. You are forgiven for conflating the two. ;-)

  • http://RadicalLoveProject.com Angela Harms

    Ok, so Tony’s a little pissed off. I don’t blame him. But this is bigger than one guy’s ordination, and it’s bigger than Tony’s anger.
    It’s about how we decide how and whether to serve God.
    If a Presbyterian church wants to base it’s hiring decisions on approval of the PCUSA, they can do that, I suppose. But meanwhile, Adam is serving God and ministering to people. Make no mistake–he is a minister. He may not have the proper credentials for a particular gig, but he’s a minister, and has brought light to many people’s lives.
    You have my vote, Adam.

  • Your Name

    1. You cannot avoid institutions because Christ is embodied (although imperfectly and sinfully) through them.
    2. Ordination to Word and Sacrament is one particular calling, one that is to serve the local Body.
    3. Every baptized follower of Jesus has an ordination to priesthood, building bridges of love between God and others.
    4. The PCUSA is one particular embodiment of Christ, the ELCA (to which I belong) is another. I recognize the Body in many other church bodies.
    5. Candidacy committees have a discernment role. Hopefully, they are guided by the Holy Spirit, using both common and uncommon sense.
    6. From the conversation so far I’ve heard 2 reasons for why Adam’s ordination has been delayed. One reason is choosing a gay preacher. The other is not fulfilling particular educational requirements.
    7. I judge the candidacy committee to be wrong, if the reason for rejection is based only on the sexual orientation of the preacher.
    8. I would support the candidacy committee, if the reason is ensuring a thorough grounding in the scriptures.
    9. Whenever I’ve reading Adam’s postings, I find him to be radically Christ centered, serving some of the vulnerable ones among us.
    Nine top of the head thoughts are enough.

  • darrell a. harris

    institutions are . . . well . . . institutions.
    yet the scripture enjoins “it is important that all of us submit to the authorities who have charge over us because god establishes all authority in heaven and on earth.” (“the voice” translation. http://www.hearthevoice.com )
    those authorities would be institutions. and although jesus submitted to the institutions of his time, he waged a truly holy war against the principalities who had enslaved and drove them.
    we must do the same, submissively, bravely and wisely. and it is often costly to us as well.
    i often wonder what jesus thinks about ordination. the very first folk ordained quick on the heels of his resurrection were the women who came to the tomb. they were ordained to go tell the rest, and especially peter, of the good news.
    i spent a lot of my adult years in the christian music field. i recall bill gaither’s reply when members of the gaither vocal band complained he didn’t give them enough latitude and “air-time” on stage in their concerts. bill’s reply was, “you’ve got a live microphone in your hand. how much more latitude do you need?”
    for those who are denying us a microphone, i suspect we should either move on looking for that mic that is open to us (tribe, whatever.)
    am so sorry for your friend and his frustrations. but i’m afraid this malady is with us until the kingdom is fully come~

  • http://www.shawncoons.com Shawn Coons

    Like it or not, these “sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity” have shaped lots of “bright, competent, and pastorally experienced persons like Adam” who may not otherwise be in ministry or Christianity today.
    Yes, the PC(USA) is my tribe and I choose the sinful system and abuse I see here over the sin and abuse I see in other churches (including emerging churches). I choose it for many reasons, but in part because being in the PC(USA) connects me to all sorts of sisters and brothers in Christ that I wouldn’t otherwise be in relationship with. In my limited emerging church experience I have missed seeing as many women in leadership and I have missed the broad representation of generations I have found in the PC(USA) (although admittedly we are tipped to the grey).
    Tony, I’m sorry to see you continue to disparage this expression of the Body of Christ, and a way of being church that works for the context of many people. I wish your view of mainline denominations was not so limited, and I wish your view of emerging Christianity was broad enough to include us.

  • rodney neill

    I will add my name to the petition!!
    Rodney

  • Tim

    Tony,
    I think your using Adam’s issue to make your own points – and hurting his calling to the PC(USA). Recognize the web is everywhere, you (wether you deny it or not) are viewed as a authoratative voice of the emergent church, and that any comments here WILL, more than likely, become known to people charged with overseeing the process.
    Because of your beliefs YOU would never be in Adam’s position. But he has been called – so don’t co-opt him for your own purposes.
    You will do what you want or feel you need to. I just don’t think it is fair to Adam for you to potentially limit him by using his situation for your own purposes.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/churchbasementroadshow/ Tony Jones

    Sara, you need to look up the definition of “begging the question.” You’ve used it several times here, and always incorrectly. To “beg the question” does not mean that a proposition raises other, related questions. To “beg the question” means that the proposal itself is a logical fallacy by using circular reasoning.
    Also, it’s become very evident to all of us here that you’re very angry at me.

  • John D’Elia

    Tony, I’m writing as a guy who loves you and admires your work, as a fellow seminary student from almost 20 years ago, and also as a PCUSA minister. Incidentally, given the context of your posting, I’m also the guy who preached at your own ordination service back in 1997.
    It’s through all that history and affection that I need to tell you publicly that you’re wrong.
    Not about the injustice surrounding your friend’s ordination. Allowing that you’ve communicated all the relevant facts, it doesn’t seem fair that he couldn’t invite a friend of faith to participate in his ordination service. You attended my ordination five years before yours, and you saw that I had the freedom to include a broad range of people who were significant in my development as a minister. You did the same in yours.
    On the other hand, your friend may have erred in being unwilling to demonstrate that he could take direction and counsel from a governing body—something that I believe has a place in the context of the American religious free market. In the PCUSA, the process of becoming ordained is partly an exercise in learning healthy submission to peer authority (I can see the eyes rolling back in your head). Now setting aside the not-nearly-rare-enough instances where the submission required is unhealthy, it’s not a bad lesson to learn. More importantly, once candidates have completed (survived?) that process, we have enormous freedom to live and serve as our own calling leads us. It’s OK with me that we disagree on this point. That’s not the problem.
    What gets me is that you have demonstrated a rash and bitter level of dismissiveness to those of us who choose this path. In your anger at the bureaucracy of large denominations and institutions, you’ve lashed out not only at them but also at the men and women of faith and calling who participate freely in the opportunities for ministry that they offer.
    You sneer at it as simply being loyal to the tribe, and you rarely pass up a chance to mention the availability of health insurance or pensions. Shame on you for not being able—or worse, willing—to understand another person’s experience. You grew up in a very wealthy family and your financial security has never been a hindrance or worry to you—not through Dartmouth, Fuller, Princeton or beyond. What if there’s nothing wrong with trying to be a good steward of a family’s health, whether physical or financial? What if, for example, serving Christ in a denomination that provides a health plan isn’t a sin or a ‘sell-out’ at all, but rather a prudent way to be a good steward?
    If I might paraphrase the sense of Jesus’ teaching about the splinter and the log, I suggest this: Swear off or return everything you’ve received from your family before saying another word about how the rest of us provide for ours.
    But setting aside the pension issue, what keeps me, and possibly your friend Adam, in the PCUSA isn’t blind servitude or tribalism or even the paltry retirement plan it offers. What keeps me loyal—and I use that term as a virtue, not a punch line—has little to do with whether I think my tradition is best (I don’t). It’s simply that it was in a Presbyterian church that I met Jesus in a life-changing way. And when I felt Christ’s call to ministry in his church, it was that same congregation who helped train me, who prayed for me, and who gave me the chance to test my call in service. I love those people, and yes, I do feel loyal to them.
    Tony, the biggest problem I see is that your hatred of denominations gets in the way of the truly important, truly inspired work that you do. It seems to me that rather than attack the weaknesses of denominations (which, frankly, is too easy a target for a man of your intellect), you should be proposing new agendas (as you do) and helping the rest of us reform existing structures from within. As a minister in a radically secular city with enormous ethnic and religious diversity, I don’t have time to re-invent many wheels. But I have learned from the things you’ve written and taught, once I get past the discordant attack on my choice of employer, and I’ve applied them in my teaching, preaching and leadership.
    The truest thing I’ve said in this piece is in the first line. I love you and I honestly admire the work that you do within and among a new generation of Christian disciples. What I’m asking is this: get off my back and the backs of the rest of us who do it differently than you. The real problem in the world isn’t the church—it’s the sin and brokenness and injustice that clouds our chance to get a glimpse of Jesus. Help us—help me—to communicate that message in fresher, more authentic ways. Leave the ‘fixing’ of the denominations to those of us who care about them.
    John D’Elia
    Senior Minister of the American Church in London

  • Your Name

    Brilliant comment John.
    I appreciate Tony’s intellect, his passion and his courage. I also agree that injustices happen within any social structure.
    The question is: “What is the most constructive way to help both the institutions and the affected individuals?”
    That question is an essential question, be it with regard to churches, government or any other institution. Sometimes shining a light into the occluded spaces is important and necessary. Sometimes working quietly and persistently from the inside is. What we each need is the wisdom to know when and how to do this. And so, at anytime in our engagement with individuals and institutions we must ask this question. It is not a question we ask once, but continuously since as things unfold the answer will change. We need to bring our full attention including a willingness to examine our personal biases. This is not easy, but is essential for any person who wants to participate and make a positive difference.

  • Your Name

    Your Name is Albert the Abstainer

  • Chad

    Amen, John.
    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Your Name

    Tony,
    Shame on you for appealing to a dictionary to silence Sara. As someone sympathetic to postmodernism you should know that people are free to use words and phrases to mean whatever they want them to, so I don’t really care what Websters says “beg the question” means, I care how she used it as in “you’re ignoring these other questions your argument raises.” Your powerplay merely allows you to not answer her valid question about you recieving tens of thousands of dollars from an institution affliated with a denomination that is so sinful it – in the words of Michael and Janet Jackson – “makes me wanna scream.”
    Your logic is thus: denominations = good when they’re giving me money to fund my PhD (or to speak at one of their conferences); denominations = bad when they thwart the plans of my friend and hence don’t meet my needs or expectations.

  • Blake Huggins

    To those hell bent on going the way of the ad hominem here: take a deep breath. Count to ten. Tony is not the Great Satan. The question of participation in a system whilst critiquing it (and I’m not so sure that is what Tony is doing, but whatever) is a good one, and one that anyone worth their salt should ponder.
    But come on. That accusation can be — and has been — levied at the entire prophetic tradition. The tension is inherent. I think Tony’s work reveals his intentions. I don’t find them to be malicious. Quite the contrary, I think he is raising an important question: at what point do we admit that our systems and institutions (for the record I am part of several and don’t deny that they are sinful) may be doing more harm than good in terms of creating space for the dynamism of the kingdom.
    As one who is currently pursuing ordination in one such system and feels very viscerally this tension I will say this. I think those of us who are a part of these institutions and react negatively to such accusations need to think long and hard about where our true loyalty lies and if we would be willing to forsake our precious systems for the larger kingdom if need be. Our constructs are only useful insofar as they further the kingdom and create space for persons to creatively participate in that reality. If we’re still holding onto them when they don’t then I would respectfully submit that we are guilty of idolatry. I think that is the question we need to be wrestling with here. Instead of spiraling into rhetorical polemics, I think this is an excellent opportunity to have a charitable conversation to that end.

  • Cameron Carothers

    To the many thoughtful comments posted here I will only second Blake’s call to “charitable conversation”. It is unfortunate, Tony, that you have chosen to begin this conversation in such an uncharitable way. I am delighted to read the many responses that have taken a tone more fitting of those who follow Christ and are members of His body together.
    Having been labeled “a cranky Elder”, I perfectly understand how frustration and concern for a friend can lead to a desire to lash out. However, your position of leadership makes publicly doing so especially imprudent. I hope you can take a step back and reconsider how to constructively work for reform as we all seek to more effectively be Christ’s church to both the world and to each other.

  • Chad

    Happy 5th Sunday of Easter, everyone.
    I agree that the process ought to be examined and re-examined and re-re-examined and that many of the questions raised need to be wrestled with and worked out.
    However, I find it a huge mistake for anyone to jump from questioning the system to abandoning it altogether, leaving it for some “virtual” ordination process. That seems bass ackwards. Whatever we want to say about the screwy ordination process we should at least be able to affirm that one of the plusses is that it is forged in community, not in spite of community.
    I am truly curious how those who signed this petition justify doing so when many, if not most, have never had a beer with Adam let alone shared at Table with Adam. Is the message the emerging church desires to send to the world that virtual community is every bit as good if not better than incarnate community?
    Perhaps God could have saved the trouble living beside us, dying and rising again, simply by sending out a mass email.
    Another issue I have is Tony’s opening comments on Adam’s blog calling the “system” he is in “sin” and those of us encouraging him as complicit in that sin. For years I have been defending the emerging church against the stereo-type that it is comprised of a bunch of malcontent evangelicals who simply despise authority. Given Tony’s comments and handling of this particular issue I have to question whether a) I have been wrong about the emerging church all along or b) Tony has a blind spot.
    While I would normally put my money on my being wrong, in this case I am banking on (b).

  • Blake Huggins

    Chad,
    Thanks for weighing in. I agree with you about community. I would never want to suggest that real, incarnate communities be replaced, or even made subservient to, virtual communities. Not at all. That would be dangerous and irresponsible. I’m look forward to the day when I can share a beer or a meal with you or Tony or Adam. But at the same time I think it is equally dangerous to dismiss virtual communities wholesale. Yes, they should not replace other forms but that I don’t think that means they are not useful or meaningful.
    I signed the petition because although I have never meet Adam in the flesh I have been following him and conversing with him through various outlets for the past several years. In that way, I think I probably know him just as much or even more than the ordination committees with which I am currently involved. I meet with them once a year, they evaluate my writing and determine readiness for ministry and so on and so forth. But do they really know me any more than I know people like Adam with whom I have been in dialogue with for several years albeit through a different frequency? I’m not so sure.
    As to the sin comments. Yes, they are strong. While I myself am not prepared to say that everyone who encourages Adam to continue in the process with PC(USA) is categorically being “complicit in sin” I am likewise not prepared to say — as I’ve already mentioned — that our systems aren’t sinful. I just can’t deny that claim in good conscience. The kingdom of God is more important to me than my denomination and I hold that tradition very loosely because I understand it to be a finite, human construct that is vulnerable to manipulation. And, for what it’s worth, I think we need people like Tony calling us to account. Are we complicit in sin? I don’t know. Maybe we are. Personally, I am more inclined to entertain that possibility than I am to write it off as Tony simply “despis[ing] authority.” Maybe that is what it is, but I’d be willing to bet that he would qualify that by saying that is not authority per se but centralized authoritarian authority with repressive proclivities that is the problem. But Tony should answer that rather me speculating about it.

  • Epluribus

    Tony Jones is encouraging apostasy. Every Christian reading this should put their “review of evidence” for the emergent movement with a status of “DONE”. The verdict should be, “Tony, I AM NOT SORRY FOR SAYING this, but you are severely lacking in judgement and you are making people stumble AWAY FROM TRUTH”.
    He likes to deconstruct everything one says into complete obscurity to the point that, if one takes a few steps back from his wordiness and arms themselves with simply what God’s literal Word actually says, sees that the ideas and views espoused by Tony are really about him, not the God of the Bible.
    The fact that he has not repented tells me that he is nothing more than an operative of sorts that seeks to divide and conquer.
    It sounds like harsh words, but we have no business re-inventing a new Christianity. Christ established the church and has not “made a mistake” along the way here. Sure, men have messed up on the right-hand side of things in executing the Great Commission, but that is no excuse to give the left-side (Mr. Tony) an excuse for them to take a crack at it… Satan is already taking on that role.

  • Unum

    Why is that a certain type of Christian makes of belief and structure an idol?
    One thing I am certain of is that holding any form as sacrosanct, is to be idolatrous. One must seek first the One, and the path to that is via negation, setting aside any form, even your church and your most fundamental beliefs. Why? Because God does not fit within, nor is constrained to a belief-set. God is as God is, not as we imagine or believe God to be. Hence, surrendering attachment out of longing for God alone is the path which draws the soul into the Divine.
    No apostasy and no infidelity. The surest way is the way of the heart longing for God and only God. It means becoming stripped, like a camel passing through an eye of a needle, all the dross is left behind.

  • Epluribus

    Unum, An idol is anything that you put before God, that separates you from God. If God is not separated from me then I have no idol in front of me. You say my belief and conceptions about God can be an idol. Any belief and precept that we form about God that is not rooted in the literal Word of God–the Word was God, remember that?–then yes, you have a problem. What I call my beliefs are rooted in the Word of God therefore my belief is not an idol. What are your beliefs rooted in?
    Your statements on God not being confined to a belief set are problematic–as though anything goes. God chose to constrain himself within a certain belief system and has said to man, this is where “I Am”. And until Jesus Christ came to die for man God gave to man certain “rules” to get to where “He Is”. Jesus Christ is the only way to God who is, the “One”. Yep, that’s as fundamental as one can get. God is a fundie you know. Anyway, to say that there is some other way to know God and call it “Christianity” is apostasy. So, yes, there is apostasy going on in the emergent church.
    One point on all of this… God doesn’t need us to be totally stripped of all our baggage to enter His presence… we just need to know who we are, what we’ve done, who He is, what He did, and the rest will follow with the reading of God’s Word and wise counsel (disciples) that is also rooted in His Word.

  • Iris Alantiel

    I totally 100% agree that Adam should be ordained, but I can’t sign a petition asking him to give up his faith. For one thing, it would be hypocritical: I’m a cradle Catholic who fails a lot of litmus tests for “true Catholicism”. Also, and perhaps more to the point, who am I to tell Adam what path God is calling him to choose? Maybe God wants him to stay with the PC(USA) for some reason, for some greater good. God forbid that I should interfere with that.
    Say, what happened to his best friend, anyway? Did he step down from speaking at the ordination service, or did the church get over it?

  • Nathan

    I hope that the current flap from this post and now over on Out of Ur is not going to create more problems for Adam.

  • http://lifeaccordingtostmark.blogspot.com/ Mark

    Wow.
    Too bad for Adam, but I’m sure/hopeful we don’t have all the story.
    I was ordained last year in a denomination that has a fairly strict ordination process. I can say with all honesty that I am GLAD we have such a process.
    While the process is perhaps a bit drawn out (3 years), it has helped me focus on strengths, improve weaknesses, and really evaluate what I believe/don’t believe about ministry.
    Having seen several “pastors” who are impotently pathetic at their job, I’m glad that our denomination is setting a high bar. What I have noticed in our area is that as the ordination process got more strict, the quality of pastors has also increased.
    In fact, my one regret is that we are allowing unordained pastors to pastor smaller churches; thus, these smaller churches are getting a “crap shoot” each time they have a pastoral transition. It could be someone with gifts and graces, or it could be “agenda pastor”.
    In the end, the real debate should be if we really believe in the authority of the church and orthodoxy…for those are the crux of ordination and a clergy system.

  • http://sirjunkerjorg.blogspot.com Mike R

    I have spent most of my own “ministry life” inside of the PCUSA, and to be honest, I’m not sure myself what good ordination is doing them at all. The PCUSA is a mess and the ordination process has not allowed “vetting” of candidates at all. I know of several whom the PCUSA ordained who blatantly lied about parts of their theology and lifestyle in order to flow more easily through the ordination process. (don’t worry, I’m not even talking about homosexuality here.)
    I would personally love to hear someone preach in front of their presbytery some of the theology that Princeton teaches and see if they would get enough votes for ordination. (I’m not bashing Princeton either.) You have to hide much of your theology and almost all of your biblical-historical-critical teaching that you have gone through in Seminary, so that you can be credentialed enough to preach messages on the “God’s Seven Purposes of the Effective Wild-at-Heart Driven Evangelical Life.”
    Jesus’ commission to us in Matthew 28 really doesn’t seem to acknowledge the creation of a credentialing committee, and I didn’t see the listing of the scores of the Bible Trivia test that the 72 filled out before Jesus sent them in Luke 10. I’m not sure what hermeneutic or homiletic training the woman at the well had before she rushed out and Billy Graham’d her whole Samaritan town. How many Pastors that have endured the entire seminary path actually retain Hebrew and Greek as a usable skill? The three ordained PCUSA pastors that I worked with who went through that rigorous seminary experience all admit that their greek and hebrew training have made them pretty adept at using a lexicon, but they aren’t translating chunks of scripture on a weekly basis.
    The truth seems to be that even though the word Pastor relates to shepherding, Jesus never refers to only the congregation as sheep and us mighty Pastors as the folks with the hook-staff who try to keep the dumb sheep in line. It sure seems like the structure that Jesus was getting at was a system where sheep lead sheep.
    When we as Pastors separate ourselves into this elite club of Bible trivia geniuses who are gifted and trained at public speaking, I just wonder what good we are doing ourselves or our congregations.
    I haven’t spent time with Adam in a long time, but I know that he is an amazing awesome guy, a deep thinker who cares deeply about other people and deeply about the calling on his life. The PCUSA not ordaining him says more about the PCUSA than it does about Adam.
    I have long said that some of us should do away with ordination and just start Knighting people. I have a friend with a sword and I would totally “dub” some people Sir Whatever or Madam Whoever (is Madam good enough for a female knight?) Then we could ask ordained Pastors whether they are simply ordained or are they knighted as well or instead. It would be equally Biblical and almost as arbitrary as many ordination processes.
    That being said: the PCUSA has some of the most wonderful amazing people who have such interesting and diverse faith walks. (just like so many other great mainstream denoms) There are so many congregations that are taking Missional approaches to their communities and changing people’s worlds.
    Sir Adam, get that ordination, get into that PCUSA machine and reform that monster! They need some more people like you.

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