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PSALT — Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth — is a national movement which aims at building the Presbyterian Church into a thoroughly biblical and Reformed expression of Christian discipleship and witness.

A Visitor’s View of General Assembly

By Dr. Jonathan Dent

We in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) thought that we would be able to put the issue of sexuality to rest at this year’s General Assembly. The Church Doctrine Committee (CDC) was recommending, by a slim majority of 9 to 7, that the Assembly deny the prayers of the overtures that wanted approval of same sex marriage and of self-defined sexuality persons as ruling and teaching elders. We thought that there would be a place for debate of this. We never arrived there.

Instead of deciding when this would happen during the Business Committee Report and simply setting an agenda to do so, it was argued that this was too difficult, given that the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) wanted to defer the whole question until next year, as opposed to what the CDC wanted. (The matter of responding to the overtures had been referred to both the CDC and the LMA.) The past Moderator made a motion to enter into the Committee of the Whole to decide the agenda order. One of the clergy members of the LGBTQ community declared the whole Assembly to be unsafe, at putting the question of going into the Committee of the Whole. The Moderator tacitly agreed and urged the Assembly to be a safe place, no longer intimidating one another.

While in the Committee of the Whole, the Assembly decided that they would not debate the question, possibly since it was too divisive, and they referred the matter of responding to the overtures to a Special Committee composed of former Moderators from 2005 to 2017. Other matters were referred to that committee as well. One commissioner was allowed to observe that she did not feel comfortable with the fact that this special committee was “mostly old white men.” Again, the Moderator tacitly agreed with the statement by allowing it, with its force of identity politics. The Assembly carried the motion to refer all matters connected with human sexuality to the Special Committee. One could feel the sense of relief come on the Assembly, yet also the frustration that in the end, we had not even attempted to decide issues that were brought forward to the Assembly in Vancouver in June 2015.

The Assembly was highly charged emotionally. As a visitor, I felt welcomed by many friends and acquaintances that I’ve made over the years. We spoke often without reference to the “the issue.” On the other hand, I felt unwelcome by some individual comments, such as by the naming from the microphone of the Renewal Fellowship and PSALT as a bullying and intimidating presence in the court. This is strange for me, after attending Assembly over my thirty years as a minister, in many commissions. I have never heard the Moderator or Clerks address visitors (and other non-commissioned persons) with accusations of lobbying, bullying, and intimidation, of taking unauthorized photographs, by praying, and engaging in the kind of spiritual conflict mentioned in Ephesians 6:10ff., where it is clear that this is not against fellow human beings, but against the devil and his spiritual forces.

The Listening Committee, which renamed itself the “Rainbow Communion” mostly were able to change their terms of reference as they requested. One exception to this is that they were to “recommend” to the Assembly and not merely “provide” the Assembly with their understanding of homophobia and hypocrisy within the PCC. They were also able to insert the words “heterosexism” and “transphobia” into their mandate. These words represent an ideology that could go against our subordinate standards. The Bible and the traditional option A are heterosexist, if I understand the term. They also were able to pass a change to their mandate that they would be “listening to others outside the LGBTQI community,” which may artificially increase the number of people to whom they will listen. The Committee was also able to obtain an indefinite suspension of censure based on current same sex relationship policies, in order freely and honestly to work on the Committee or to be heard by the Committee. The Moderator was challenged as to whether this was in order, without going down under the Barrier Act, as an indefinite change to our discipline. The Moderator made it clear that a future Assembly could limit this suspension, if it chooses, so the Moderator’s ruling was upheld.

Have we become an “affirming” church, now that we have adopted all these Rainbow Communion motions? Some will argue that we have. But please remember that these motions are only in light of fulfilling the 1994 mandate to address homophobia and hypocrisy. We have agreed only to listen to these persons in our midst, and not to fully change our doctrine and practice. We need to keep praying.

Gracious dismissal overtures were answered in the Clerks’ Report. They wrote that, out of concern for unity, they will not suggest any openness to departing congregations being able to leave with their assets. Congregations, who leave their buildings because of doctrinal or other concerns, will have the opportunity, along with other interested parties, to buy back their real estate six months after vacating their premises. For many of us, it feels like a “winner takes all” kind of mentality, in spite of several pleas from the microphones for more of a pastoral response than this. This matter was referred to the Assembly Council.

The Assembly voted down removing the right to dissent when absent with permission from a court. Less than three minutes was spent on the multi-million-dollar budget. One question about annual million-and-a-half-dollar deficits was answered by the new CFO, saying that he would use reserves for this deficit.

Did PSALT unfairly influence the Assembly? We spoke to one another through social media. We debriefed in the evenings and at the end of lunch breaks. We prayed early in the morning. While this is influence, I do not believe this is unfair influence. As I shared before the Assembly with a conservative clergy commissioner friend who does not want to join PSALT currently, I do not believe that PSALT is divisive to the denomination by seeking to uphold the current biblical status of marriage and the biblical basis of sexual ethics and leadership, as represented in Option A, the traditional biblical point of view.

2018 Conference – Thriving in Babylon

Note: PowerPoint slides of the presentations, several accompanied by audio recordings to be listened to in conjunction with the slides, may be found within the text below.

More than 100 Presbyterians and friends from coast to coast filled a sanctuary at Vaughan Community Church, Thornhill, Ontario, on April 20-21 for Thriving in Babylon, two days of encouragement and challenge for the Christ-centred, Bible-believing church.

When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, they found themselves spiritually and morally challenged in a land in rebellion against God and His truth. Similarly, Christians in this uncertain period of a post-truth Canada feel increasingly isolated from culture and their community. Hence the name of the event: Thriving in Babylon. The purpose was to explore the opportunities evangelical Canadian Christians have in our present-day context and how we can thrive within it.

This spring conference took place on Friday and Saturday, April 20-21, 2018, at Vaughan Community Church, Thornhill, Ontario. It was held in co-operation with The Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada. It was a celebration of the evangelical church in Canada, with speakers, discussion, sharing, and fellowship. This event was open to people from all churches and denominations.

Conference Speakers

The theme on Friday, April 20, was Christian Living in a Secular World

  • Bruce Clemenger – President, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – Freedom and Faith in Canada – the challenges of freedom of religion in the Canadian context and the benefits of networking as evangelicals. PowerPoint slides
  • Rev. Dr. Warwick Cooper – Peoples’s Church – Evangelicals and the LGBTQ Relationship – insights into the improving relationships between evangelicals and the LGBTQ community. PowerPoint slidesResource List
  • Lee Beach, McMaster Divinity College professor and author of The Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom, set the scene, directing us toward hope.
  • Gary Stagg, Open Doors Canada executive director, spoke about what we can learn about the experience of Christian oppression in other parts of the world. PowerPoint slides with presentation notes
  • Carmen Laberge, radio host, author, and president of the Presbyterian Laymen (PCUSA) spoke on how we can bring God back into the conversation within the mainline church.
  • Dr. William Webb – Christian professor and author of Christian Ethics and Canada Today – insight into the ethical challenges facing Christians in Canada today. PowerPoint slides
  • Rev. Wes Chang – Chair, Toronto Chinese Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship – The Experience of New Canadians in Babylon – the largest segment of growth in the Canadian Church in a secular Canada. PowerPoint slides

The theme on Saturday, April 21, was Good News for These Times. The audio recordings are best listened to with headphones or good speakers.

PSALT Speaks to the Moderator’s Letter of Repentance

It’s been over a month since the Letter of Repentance to the LGBTQI Community was issued by the PCC Moderator and you may have been wondering if Psalt was going to issue any response to the letter. We have crafted a response which we are pleased to send to you now.

The timing of our response is intentional. Issuing a letter of repentance is bound to cause some reaction and we did not want our response to the Moderator’s letter to generate any further reactions instead of measured consideration, especially during a time when many of National Committees were meeting to conduct their business.

However, now that sufficient time has passed we feel it is appropriate to release our response. We are happy to answer any questions you may have for us on this issue.
contactpsalt@gmail.com

Blessings in Christ,
The Psalt Leadership Team


PSALT Speaks to the Moderator’s Letter of Repentance

The Moderator of the 2017 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, The Rev. Peter Bush, issued a Letter of Repentance to the LGBTQI Community in February of 2018. This was part of a larger work of repentance for homophobia that was considered by the General Assembly in 2017 as a matter that was identified but not completed following the Report on Human Sexuality adopted by the General Assembly in 1994. Since 1994, neither the doctrine nor the practice of the denomination has officially changed.

PSALT – Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth – is grateful to the Moderator for fulfilling this part of the task assigned to him by the Church. The Letter repents of homophobic behaviours and attitudes that have harmed LGBTQ persons, and it is good and right that the Church should do so. We applaud this act of contrition and repentance, and we recognize that the Letter will become more meaningful as individuals responsible for such acts mentioned in the Letter recognize their error in actions, inactions, or dispositions of heart and spirit. The Letter reflects the common narrative of society, although it does not reflect the voice of the whole Church nor that of the holy apostolic church. In this Letter, the Church has gone the extra mile, and hopefully, it will not be leveraged during future debates in attempts to silence respectful opposing and prophetic voices within the Church.

We are grateful to note what the Letter does not say. It does not seek a change of the doctrine of the Church or its view of marriage being between one man and one woman. It does not seek to change the practice of the Church by legitimizing the ordination of practicing LGBTQI persons. It does not seek to undermine the Church’s high view of Scripture and its authority, or the Reformed hermeneutical methods applied to it.

Repentance is useful in resetting relationships with the active grace of God at work. This Letter, while important, does not give special identity to any group within the Church, as our identity rests primarily in Christ Jesus. We recognize that other areas of repentance are also needed by the Church, especially with respect to racism exercised towards parts of our denomination’s constituency.

This Letter reminds us all of our fallen natures. As Romans 3:23 puts it succinctly: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

May God continue to bless us with wisdom and grace in these matters.

– The PSALT Leadership Team

The Fall of Jerusalem

By Rev. James Statham

Actually, it was spring in Jerusalem, and nine of us Canadian Presbyterian clergy were standing about 50 feet from the Western Wall listening attentively to our guide, Sheera. She awed us with the news that this last vestige of Herod’s wall, which once surrounded the temple mount, was composed of not just the towering rows of huge, cut-stone ashlars visible to us, but of 18 more rows descending below grade. On scribbling down her fascinating commentary, I was interrupted by an abrupt poke in the ribs. I turned and was confronted by a soldier waving his finger in my face. An Uzi was slung over his shoulder. I quickly put my pen away and apologized! Behind him, two sandbagged soldiers squatted behind a machine gun on a tripod. My writing had broken a law. It was late Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath was about to begin. My “working” would have offended the orthodox Jews praying at this holy site.

In Mark 13:2, Jesus predicted that the walls of Jerusalem and of the temple mount would be torn down. In AD 70, the Roman Tenth Legion breached the city walls and the temple was desecrated. Judaism, as it had been, would be no more. The fig tree would no longer bear fruit. God would now dwell among those who love and obey His Son – no need for temple sacrifices. Jesus, the “Lamb of God” had “taken away the sins of the world” on a cross outside this city. This is the heart of what we believe in the PCC – and it unites us.

But the walls of our PCC have been slowly breached by militant forces birthed in the narcissism of an increasingly secular culture zealously severing itself from its roots in historic, apostolic Christianity. Our unity is no more. Competing beliefs now divide us. But those who love and who therefore strive to obey Jesus remain united in this one truth: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living.” (2 Timothy 3:16 GNT)

The Roman legions came from many conquered lands and affirmed a variety of cultural gods. The soldiers enjoyed a diverse but still workable unity. The church of Jesus Christ, however, is defined by those who love only one God made known in Jesus Christ. God’s words are our Scriptures, and they are not just a component of, but are the “sole authority for faith and life”. Since New Testament times, the church has often been breached and divided by those whose faith is rooted more in the diversity of beliefs represented in a culture. Have any of us missed the blessing of a faith that flourishes in the singular, marvellous fullness of the Word of God? Can a faith that removes the “all” from Paul’s instructions fully flourish? Joshua knew a lot about breaching walls: “Make sure that you obey the whole Law that my servant Moses gave you. Do not neglect any part of it and you will succeed wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7 GNT)

The unity that we once valued is becoming less workable. What to do? Perhaps we could patch up the gaps in our walls through overturing successive General Assemblies to try to stem the inevitable tide. There would then have to be a willingness in our courts to defend with discipline the old walls as well as any new ones. That’s hard to do when friendships trump biblical doctrine. Our culture has breached the PCC, and many of us have become friends with its ambassadors. So….

Perhaps we could weld a legitimate unity by selectively sifting our doctrines. But dare we risk being those who “teach human rules as though they were my laws”? (Mark 7:7 GNT) Well then…

What about creating separate enclaves in the PCC as in the Old City today: the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarters?

Some will want to desert us and join or build a new city elsewhere with stronger and higher walls, or fewer walls, or no walls at all.

The PCC is getting a “poke in the ribs”. Let’s not be afraid to turn and look. Perhaps, the Lord is waving His finger in our face. God certainly waved His finger in the face of Judaism. He sent successive prophets to call His people to heed His Word, but they were ignored or imprisoned. Lastly, He sent His Son, and they rejected Him, too. Why? Except for a few, the people failed to take Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. His miracles they loved, but few loved all His words. He even had to speak in parables. Could we also be the ones Jesus spoke of when He said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34 GNT)? Close… but no cigar!

Unless we in the PCC are willing to believe that all Scripture could be life-giving, and as well life-changing, we will fail to flourish in our life and witness, and we will continue in our disunity. Early in my life, a common message that seemed to define the church was, “Jesus saves”. It has since morphed into an equally common yet undefined broad and bland message: “God loves you.” By themselves, neither of these gospels is a sufficient expression of a flourishing, life-changing faith. This willingness to seek out and trust in the fullness of God’s Word must be at the heart of what we believe – and it will unite us.

Letter from the Chair, PSALT Leadership Team

By Rev. Dr. Martin Kreplin

Have you ever wanted to give a standing ovation to a sermon? For the first time in my life, I really wanted to do exactly that when the Rev. Douglas Rollwage, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly (GA), provided an incredible address to the crowded sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Kingston at the opening sederunt entitled “The People’s Book.” I was so moved by that sermon that I acquired the transcript and distributed it to everyone within my congregation. You can access it on our website.

Now that the 143rd GA is over, what sense can we make of it? What impact will decisions made have upon the denomination? What is before us as PSALT? Some of these issues will become clearer in time, but here are some reflections on our situation.

First, the penultimate decision of GA this year was to defer the recommendations coming from the Justice Ministry (JM) department of the Life and Mission Agency (LMA), Sexuality Recommendations 11-15. Recommendation 11 would allow clergy to bless same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 12 would affirm freedom of conscience for clergy who would not want to participate in same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 13 would have LMA prepare orders of worship blessing same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 14 would not bar anyone from candidacy or ordination by reason of same sex civil marriage. Recommendation 15 would refer the previous recommendations to sessions and others to report back by January 31, 2018, with the understanding that Christian marriage is a union in Christ in which two individuals regardless of gender become one in the sight of God.

The motion to defer these recommendations carried by about a 60% majority, which displayed the deep divisions in the PCC around these issues. Out of the 233 commissioners, 55 registered their dissent, and of those, about 15 submitted written reasons, which you can read in the Acts and Proceedings.

The motion to defer these recommendations to a future GA was made to defer their consideration until after the work of the Committee on Church Doctrine (CCD) was completed on these matters. In other words, this GA decided that practice follows doctrine. Doctrine, which comes from appropriate biblical hermeneutics, informs our behaviour. According to its report to GA, the CCD has a great deal of work lined up ahead of it, but there are forces within it wanting to push forward changes to doctrine. Also, a commissioner could bring such motions to the floor of a future GA, and it is debatable whether the moderator at that time would consider them to be in order. PSALT is not out of the woods! Your prayers around these deep divisions in our church are coveted.

The impact of the decision to defer Recommendations 11-15 may leave some PSALTY people dissatisfied because some want this matter settled – the quicker the better. Others, including our ethnic congregations and Presbyteries, need time to translate, study, consider, and discuss materials in order to speak into issues fluently. The majority of those of us who would consider ourselves orthodox and conservatively aligned are of a mind that the motion to defer was to the great benefit of our cause.

Second, another big success for PSALT was around the issue of gracious dismissal. To paraphrase the Clerks of Assembly in 2016, their response then was there wasn’t enough of a mandate to consider gracious dismissal. At the time, there were four overtures on gracious dismissal under consideration. Over three years there have been 21 sessions and four presbyteries raising issues on gracious dismissal or unity, as well as two petitions from the Han Ca Presbyteries and one other related petition. The response of the clerks in 2017, again to paraphrase, was basically that we answered that issue last year. At GA, a Special Committee was instructed to report back at a specific sederunt on the issue. It did its work and identified the five major themes raised in the overtures and petitions. Its five recommendations will require the Clerks and others to which this issue was referred to treat these matters seriously. We look forward to that work and the report which will come to GA in 2018. This may lead to looking at creative alternatives to gracious dismissal, like creating theologically aligned Presbyteries, or creating two new denominations each according to their theological traditions, while holding some things in common.

Third, there is a great deal of work ahead of us. There were no less than six (!) major documents sent to congregations, presbyteries, and other bodies of the PCC for study and report by January 31, 2018. PSALT is already in the process of preparing critiques of each of these papers which may help congregations, presbyteries, and others in their consideration of and reporting on the various papers. The matters being referred for study and report are 1) Intersex and Transgender issues; 2) Biblical Reflections on which JM recommendations were based; 3) Historic Argument Concerning Human Sexuality; 4) What the Bible Teaches on Covenanted Monogamous Same-Sex Relationships; 5) Where from Here? (three options); and 6) Physician Assisted Suicide. We hope to have critiques ready on our website no later than September of this year and would encourage your own personal reflection on these various papers, submitting your thoughts. Possibly, they would serve as some thoughtful summer reading.

The PSALT Leadership Team recognizes that there is a lot of work before us. We recognize the need for resourcing PSALTY folks to be able to speak into issues fluently. We also recognize the need to develop effective strategies and to empower commissioners to General Assembly in 2018. We are also building alliances and exploring the possibility of hosting a Pastor’s Conference sometime in the next year. No matter how much effort we put into the PSALT movement though, we ultimately recognize our complete and utter dependency on the Holy Spirit giving us the grace and wisdom to be able to move forward according to His perfect will.

In two short years, the PSALT movement has grown and has had considerable impact, but we need your help. Without the Presbyterian Record or any other way to access the pews in the PCC, we need your help in developing the PSALT movement. We are building a database of people who are aligned with PSALT’s mission and would love to add to it people that you know who share our vision. Please consider passing this note on to at least five people that you know, asking that they be added to our list by contacting us at <contactpsalt@gmail.com> or by sending a note to PSALT c/o P.O. Box 15065 Aspen Woods P.O., Calgary Alberta, T3H 0N8.

Thank you for your prayers for the mission of Christ in the Holy Apostolic Church and within the PCC. Thank you as well for your prayers for PSALT’s work which “aims at building the Presbyterian Church into a thoroughly biblical and Reformed expression of Christian discipleship and witness.” We pray that the ministries of PSALT will enhance your ministries and the mission of the Kingdom.

Out of the PSALT Shaker

Greetings from the PSALT Leadership Team!

The Team took a break over the summer, but has now resumed twice-monthly online meetings. They have asked me to bring you some old and new news. Unity is so precious in a divided church. We want to keep in touch with you.

Plans are underway for a conference all day Friday, April 20th, 2018, at Vaughan Community Church, Toronto, Ontario: “Thriving in Babylon: Christian Living in a Secular World”. We are encouraged to already have the commitment of Bruce Clemenger, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as a featured speaker, plus Lee Beach, from McMaster Divinity College, who has written extensively on the subjects before us. Warwick Cooper, Counsellor and Men’s Ministry pastor at People’s Church, Toronto will also address us. Details and registration will soon become available. The next day will be a Renewal Day with the Renewal Fellowship at the same location. The theme will be “Thriving in Babylon: Good News for These Times”, with a lineup of interesting speakers, including John Stackhouse Jr. and David Haskell. Set aside those dates and come for both days!

While PSALT has no formal relationship with the other two renewal movements in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we want to affirm and encourage the ministries of Dunamis and the Renewal Fellowship. Our memberships overlap of course. Do keep all three in prayer.

You may or may not be aware of details of interest to you in the General Assembly report concerning the Special Committee on Congregations Considering Leaving the Denomination. PSALT exists because we are concerned for the biblical and organic unity of our church. Here is some of that report:

    In total, therefore, over a three-year period, 21 sessions and four presbyteries have raised issues touching on either the general theme of gracious dismissal or the unity of the church. Significant concern has been expressed by at least four distinct ethnic minority communities who are part of the blessed mosaic of language and culture within The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

    If by “gracious dismissal” we understand provision for congregations to leave The Presbyterian Church in Canada with title to their property and other material assets, we understand that both the Clerks of Assembly and the General Assembly itself have affirmed that such is not presently possible under both ecclesiastical and civil law. The irony of our denomination, which was founded by non-concurring congregations allowed to retain their buildings, refusing to grant similar grace to departing congregations in our own context, was noted.

    It is affirmed in some of the overtures to this Assembly that the Clerks have stated that should the General Assembly give a mandate to explore changes which would facilitate a process for gracious dismissal that such could and would be undertaken.

    The Committee on Church Doctrine proposes to bring to the next General Assembly a substantial report on the unity of the church. This should inform and assist in the formulation of any policy on gracious dismissal.

    There is a risk that defining a framework for gracious dismissal ahead of doctrinal decisions leading to a change in practice may result in a lessening of commitment to maintaining the organic unity of the denomination.

    Is it possible within a general framework of Presbyterian polity for congregations of differing theological convictions to be linked together? Might we explore the possibility of non-geographic presbyteries or synods?

So, there you have it – but let’s not leave it there. Your input on these matters is important. Whether you “stay and pray”, “pull away”, or “pull out”, it’s going to be costly in some form. So, there are three things that we ask of you. Firstly, contribute to the current discussions by responding to the General Assembly study materials – perhaps by prayerfully conceiving of and promoting a fourth option that could shape a future Presbyterian Church in Canada, or by further supporting gracious dismissal.

We also invite you to keep in touch with us on this website or on Facebook, so that no one falls through the cracks, becomes discouraged, leaves prematurely, or is out of sync with others who are likeminded. We have strength in unity.

Lastly, (sounds like a sermon!) perhaps you can help us out at PSALT with this one thing: We don’t know how to best reach the pews with the good news of PSALT’s presence and ministry. The Record is no more. Clergy are more easily networked and so while we have voices in most Presbyteries, we need to broaden our base.

On behalf of the PSALT Leadership Team, may grace and peace be unto you.

Jim Statham, Peachland BC

Summer 2017 PSALT Letter

Have you ever wanted to give a standing ovation to a sermon? For the first time in my life, I really wanted to do exactly that when the Rev. Douglas Rollwage, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly (GA), provided an incredible address to the crowded sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Kingston at the opening sederunt entitled “The People’s Book.” I was so moved by that sermon that I acquired the transcript and distributed it to everyone within my congregation. You can access it on our website.

Now that the 143rd GA is over, what sense can we make of it? What impact will decisions made have upon the denomination? What is before us as PSALT? Some of these issues will become clearer in time, but here are some reflections on our situation.

First, the penultimate decision of GA this year was to defer the recommendations coming from the Justice Ministry (JM) department of the Life and Mission Agency (LMA), Sexuality Recommendations 11-15. Recommendation 11 would allow clergy to bless same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 12 would affirm freedom of conscience for clergy who would not want to participate in same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 13 would have LMA prepare orders of worship blessing same sex marriages conducted by civil authorities. Recommendation 14 would not bar anyone from candidacy or ordination by reason of same sex civil marriage. Recommendation 15 would refer the previous recommendations to sessions and others to report back by January 31, 2018, with the understanding that Christian marriage is a union in Christ in which two individuals regardless of gender become one in the sight of God.

The motion to defer these recommendations carried by about a 60% majority, which displayed the deep divisions in the PCC around these issues. Out of the 233 commissioners, 55 registered their dissent, and of those, about 15 submitted written reasons, which you can read in the Acts and Proceedings.

The motion to defer these recommendations to a future GA was made to defer their consideration until after the work of the Committee on Church Doctrine (CCD) was completed on these matters. In other words, this GA decided that practice follows doctrine. Doctrine, which comes from appropriate biblical hermeneutics, informs our behaviour. According to its report to GA, the CCD has a great deal of work lined up ahead of it, but there are forces within it wanting to push forward changes to doctrine. Also, a commissioner could bring such motions to the floor of a future GA, and it is debatable whether the moderator at that time would consider them to be in order. PSALT is not out of the woods! Your prayers around these deep divisions in our church are coveted.

The impact of the decision to defer Recommendations 11-15 may leave some PSALTY people dissatisfied because some want this matter settled – the quicker the better. Others, including our ethnic congregations and Presbyteries, need time to translate, study, consider, and discuss materials in order to speak into issues fluently. The majority of those of us who would consider ourselves orthodox and conservatively aligned are of a mind that the motion to defer was to the great benefit of our cause.

Second, another big success for PSALT was around the issue of gracious dismissal. To paraphrase the Clerks of Assembly in 2016, their response then was there wasn’t enough of a mandate to consider gracious dismissal. At the time, there were four overtures on gracious dismissal under consideration. Over three years there have been 21 sessions and four presbyteries raising issues on gracious dismissal or unity, as well as two petitions from the Han Ca Presbyteries and one other related petition. The response of the clerks in 2017, again to paraphrase, was basically that we answered that issue last year. At GA, a Special Committee was instructed to report back at a specific sederunt on the issue. It did its work and identified the five major themes raised in the overtures and petitions. Its five recommendations will require the Clerks and others to which this issue was referred to treat these matters seriously. We look forward to that work and the report which will come to GA in 2018. This may lead to looking at creative alternatives to gracious dismissal, like creating theologically aligned Presbyteries, or creating two new denominations each according to their theological traditions, while holding some things in common.

Third, there is a great deal of work ahead of us. There were no less than six (!) major documents sent to congregations, presbyteries, and other bodies of the PCC for study and report by January 31, 2018. PSALT is already in the process of preparing critiques of each of these papers which may help congregations, presbyteries, and others in their consideration of and reporting on the various papers. The matters being referred for study and report are 1) Intersex and Transgender issues; 2) Biblical Reflections on which JM recommendations were based; 3) Historic Argument Concerning Human Sexuality; 4) What the Bible Teaches on Covenanted Monogamous Same-Sex Relationships; 5) Where from Here? (three options); and 6) Physician Assisted Suicide. We hope to have critiques ready on our website no later than September of this year and would encourage your own personal reflection on these various papers, submitting your thoughts. Possibly, they would serve as some thoughtful summer reading.

The PSALT Leadership Team recognizes that there is a lot of work before us. We recognize the need for resourcing PSALTY folks to be able to speak into issues fluently. We also recognize the need to develop effective strategies and to empower commissioners to General Assembly in 2018. We are also building alliances and exploring the possibility of hosting a Pastor’s Conference sometime in the next year. No matter how much effort we put into the PSALT movement though, we ultimately recognize our complete and utter dependency on the Holy Spirit giving us the grace and wisdom to be able to move forward according to His perfect will.

In two short years, the PSALT movement has grown and has had considerable impact, but we need your help. Without the Presbyterian Record or any other way to access the pews in the PCC, we need your help in developing the PSALT movement. We are building a database of people who are aligned with PSALT’s mission and would love to add to it people that you know who share our vision. Please consider passing this note on to at least five people that you know, asking that they be added to our list by contacting us at <contactpsalt@gmail.com> or by sending a note to PSALT c/o P.O. Box 15065 Aspen Woods P.O., Calgary Alberta, T3H 0N8.

Thank you for your prayers for the mission of Christ in the Holy Apostolic Church and within the PCC. Thank you as well for your prayers for PSALT’s work which “aims at building the Presbyterian Church into a thoroughly biblical and Reformed expression of Christian discipleship and witness.” We pray that the ministries of PSALT will enhance your ministries and the mission of the Kingdom.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Dr. Martin Kreplin,
    Chair, PSALT Leadership Team

Click here for a shareable PDF version of this letter.

PSALT Conference Experience

A personal essay by Rev. Andy Cornell

God works in many creative ways. One is repetition: the same word, phrase, verse, or concept appearing in different contexts at roughly the same time. In these God moments, He gets my attention. It happens in my life as a pastor and it happened here, at the gathering of Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth (PSALT) at Vaughan Community Church on May 12-13, 2017.

Midway through the first morning, I heard something familiar from one of the presenters. “The enemy hates the bride and will attack any weakness. Prepare for it,” said Carmen Fowler Laberge, editor of the Presbyterian Layman (PCUSA). “Prepare” was the key word in the message for my congregation May 14. “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). We, in turn, need to prepare for our arrival. It dawned on me a week later that the PSALT gathering was – for me at least – a reminder that preparation is key in the spiritual battle we wage. Yes, the gathering was a great opportunity to put faces to names, to reconnect with others and to bond with those of similar experiences and theology as spiritual family. And the overriding message was this: pray and prepare, for we are under attack and the enemy does not adhere to rules of engagement.

I have several pages of notes at the conference. Here are some key takeaways.

Quotable quotes: “Don’t allow the idea that God has two minds on anything.” (Carmen). Option ‘C’ in the Church Doctrine Committee recommendation No. 5 comes to mind. Other gems from Carmen: “He cannot be voted off the throne” “Leave (the denomination) together as unified witnesses . . . leave your mother who has become a whore.”

Crystals of wisdom: Prof. Ephraim Radner of Wycliffe College provided insight into our culture’s egocentrism. With health and life expectancy on the rise, mortality is less of an issue in the Western World. We rely less on God and are becoming our own gods. “Who does my body belong to?” the professor asked. To the dominant secular culture, the answer is not family, not my partner, not my culture and certainly not to God. Thus the new polemic: my body was designed for my pleasure, not for God’s kingdom.

Points to ponder: “The church has done a poor job of celebrating singleness.” (Pastor Bruxy Cavey, The Meeting House). “There are no letters in the New Testament apart from the problems of the church.” (Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston quoting Karl Barth.)

Powerful prayer and partnership: The unceasing presence of a Dunamis Fellowship prayer intercessor at the entrance to our main gathering place was reassuring. Beside her was a table with pastoral support from Renewal Fellowship Within the PCC.

A warning about division: Although the participants were, in general terms, united in their hermeneutic and theology, we face the prospect of division. The three discussion groups told the tale: “Pull out” of the PCC, “pull away” into a separate synod, or “stay and pray.” While these are excellent starting places for discussion, they were reminders of the need to remain united in our theology no matter how we approach the battle for Christ’s kingdom. His bride can multitask and appear in many different places. We can be divided, yet be united.

The grand nugget: Prof. Gene Haas, of Redeemer University, outlined briefly his nine principles of reformed hermeneutics. My mind wandered back to my seminary biblical hermeneutic theory, which centred around a German philosopher with strong ties to Nazism. Back home, I dredged up my notes. The syllabus described it as an interdisciplinary course on hermeneutic theory, with theology as only one aspect. Quotes from my lecture notes: “The Bible is not the word of God, but we can find God’s word in it. Bible is not infallible. We are to understand the text as human beings, mindful that it was not intended to be read by anyone other than the original listeners or readers.” (Are our seminaries the root of our apostasy?) In the panel discussion which followed Haas, I noted this insight from Rev. Karla Wubbenhorst: “There’s too much human authority used in interpretation.” Or, as Rick (Purpose Driven Life) Warren often wrote: “It’s not about me.”

Back to that key word: prepare. I had already skimmed over the reports to General Assembly prior to the PSALT gathering. I’m reading them again in light of the rich insight served at our gathering. I feel better prepared for the deeper debate expected this fall. I’m feeling much less dread. Our gathering was a warm embrace by like-minded sheep eager to seek the shepherd’s voice, regardless of our temporal state. The church is alive and well.

Let us enter the coming storm prepared, as a praying people, unceasingly searching for the mind of Christ and the Father’s will under the protection and illumination of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about me.

(A shareable PDF version of this essay is available here.)

Sermon at General Assembly

Rev. Doug Rollwage, Past Moderator, outlines several rediscoveries of the power of God’s Word as chronicled in Scripture itself and in the pages of history. He asks, “Why is our denomination experiencing precipitous decline, troubled by increasing division, edging ever closer to ‘consumebatur,’ its fire flickering dangerously dim? Because somehow someway, the Book has again slipped from our hands.” … Read More