Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thank You!

I am filled with gratitude; I claim the beautiful words of the apostle Paul as my own, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” Since the Summer of 2005 when I started my service as Executive Presbyter I have been abundantly blessed. My particular work within our common ministry has been meaningful and challenging. I have grown and learned so much. I will forever carry in my heart the abiding relationships that blossomed over these years. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve our Church in this unique and special way, in this very special and gifted Presbytery. These years have deepened my love and commitment to our Presbyterian Church. Thank you!

While I am convinced the future is bright and there are exciting, new opportunities coming for our Presbytery, it is time for me to step away from my position as the Executive Presbyter. I am delighted to announce that I will be serving as the transitional pastor of our Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church in Gettysburg. My last day of active service as the Executive Presbyter will be March 15, 2018.    

There are countless reasons why, at this time, this is a good and appropriate change for me. I hope, also, this creates a good opportunity for the Presbytery. Indeed, I am earnestly praying that my feeling that this is a calling from our Lord is accurate and true.

Obviously, since I am not leaving our Presbytery, this creates a bit of a complicated situation. Thus, while the Lower Marsh Creek congregation will continue to be involved in and abundantly supportive of our Presbytery, I personally will not be involved, in any way, in the ministry of the Presbytery for at least two years after the installation of your next Executive Presbyter.
Grace and Peace in Christ!


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The roots of racism

The latest paper in the Presbyterian Mission Agency's Theological Conversations is by Professor Hak Joon Lee of Fuller Theological Seminary titled Redeeming Covenant: A Critical Reflection on Puritan Covenant Theology, Democracy and Racism in the United States. This is brilliant theological essay which clearly and precisely helped me understand the theological foundations of "America's original sin": racism. And these foundations are firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition's commitment to covenant theology. How do we understand the continuing power and attraction of racist and white nationalist ideology within a nation that has such a robust Christian history? Professor Lee's thesis is that we must understand the roots of racism within our Christian history itself, and specifically within the themes of covenant theology which have been influential in our Reformed Tradition all the way back to the Puritans of New England. 

I am copying here from the concluding section of this important essay:

"Covenant theology has played a morally ambiguous and contradictory role in American political, religious and social history. In a certain sense, the idea of covenant symbolizes the best and the worst aspects of the United States. Perhaps, the gap between the universal inclusiveness of the covenant of Christ and the Puritans' practice of racism discloses the fractures within the soul of America." 

The web address to the essay is here:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Prayer for Peace

A Prayer for Peace

The PC(USA) has a new mission co-working serving in Israel/ Palestine. It is important that our church has a presence and witness in the midst of this volatile region, advocating for Christians and the Church. Douglas Dicks offers this prayer for peace. See his webpage at the Presbyterian World Mission site:

Pray not for Arab or Jew,
For Palestinian or Israeli,
But pray rather for ourselves,
That we might not divide them in our prayers
But keep them both together
In our hearts.
When races fight,
Peace be amongst us.
When neighbors argue,
Peace be amongst us.
When nations disagree,
Peace be among us.
Where people struggle for justice,
Let justice prevail.
Where Christ’s disciples follow, let peace be our way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Bible as a tool of resistance.

The Rev. Mitri Raheb taught (and published on their website) a Bible study for the recent meeting of the General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. (Google search on "World Communion of Reformed Churches" and search under the tab "General Council for this Bible study and others.)

Copied here is a portion of Rev. Raheb's Bible study on the Pentecost story in Acts 2. He connects the multiplicity of languages on the day of Pentecost with the translation of the Bible into the vernacular languages of the people, which was a central thrust of the Protestant Reformation:

Based on this Lukan vision, the role of the native language became key to Christian mission. While in traditional Judaism the Bible was to be read in Hebrew, and in Islam the Quran can be recited only in Arabic and no translation is allowed, in Christianity each people have “to hear the gospel in their own native language.” God wants to speak to us in the languages in which we dream. This understanding of Acts 2 became key to Protestant theology— Protestant theologians from Wycliffe in England to Lefevre in France to Luther in Germany. In a context where Latin was the language of the ruling and oppressing empire (described often as Babylon) the Bible translation became a tool of resistance and liberation. 

While celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we do not do the Reformation justice if we understood what happened in Wittenberg, Geneva, Zurich, Edinburgh or northern Italy as a mere religious revival. This was a resistance movement to empire, and the translation of the Bible was one tool of resistance. God had to speak the language of the people and not the language of empire. This is why the Bible was translated so far into more than 2500 different languages. 

In fact without Bible translation some languages would not exist in written form. This is not only true for tribal languages only but for most languages as well. The translation of the Bible and the development of written languages went hand in hand, not only in Coptic and Armenian as indicated before, but in most European languages as well. There is an interrelation between the King James Bible translation and the development of the standard English language, between Luther translation of the Bible into German and the development of the modern German language, etc.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pastoral Letter from General Assembly Moderators

The statement is copied from Presbyterian News Service:

August 28, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Friends,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Reconciler.
We write to you as former Moderators of the General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor churches, as disciples of Jesus Christ committed to the Gospel’s witness and promise of reconciliation, and as agents of God’s transformative justice in the church and in the world.
The brazen march of white nationalist supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11 and 12, 2017, and President Donald Trump’s subsequent responses that equivocated on clearly identifying, denouncing and condemning those same groups as instigators of hatred and violence brought the spotlight upon the deeply embedded and pernicious poison of racism and white supremacy so endemic in society and, we dare say, in the church. We are increasingly alarmed when notions of nationalism and racial superiority are masked and clothed in terms of the Christian faith, or confused with the Gospel, or somehow supersede the clear exhortation of sacred Scripture to love your neighbor as Christ loved the Church, or when the Christian faith is used to inspire and organize hatred and bigotry.
We are wisely instructed by the struggles of our faith forebearers when fascism in the form of Nazism was on the rise in the 1930s, resulting in the Theological Declaration of Barmen, which categorically and emphatically denounced the effects of Nazism in the church and in society: “. . .we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation.” Then again, nearly four decades ago, our South African sisters and brothers stood courageously against the white governmental policy of apartheid and the theologies that undergirded and rationalized that sinful regime. The Belhar Confession stated: “. . .we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.”
In so doing, we join with our Stated Clerk, General Assembly Co-Moderators, and Presbyterian Mission Agency Interim Executive Director in calling the church to confess and repent of the ways in which we have been complicit and failed to disrupt, challenge, and undo white supremacy and racism. (see their pastoral letter: )
As our concerns, sadness and anger have increased over the state of affairs we find ourselves as a nation, we are also equally determined and committed to active prayer and prayerful action, as we know so many of you are doing in thousands of churches, in counter-protests in streets across the country, in letter writing to and visits with elected officials, in mobilizing through social media, in face-to-face/neighbor-to-neighbor conversations. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in summarizing the 19th century abolitionist leader Theodore Parker, exhorted: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
May we, as the present-future generation of God’s people in this time and for this time, work and pray for the reconciliation of all of God’s children, and may the Lord grant us grace and courage for the facing of this hour.
Yours in the service of Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, 214th General Assembly (2002), PC(USA)
Elder (Dr.) Thelma C. Davidson Adair, 188th General Assembly (1976), UPCUSA
The Rev. Dr. Susan R. Andrews, 215th General Assembly (2003), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Bohl, 206th General Assembly (1994), PC(USA)
Elder Patricia Brown, 209th General Assembly (1997), PC(USA)
The Rev. John M. Buchanan, 208th General Assembly (1996), PC(USA)
The Rev. David Lee Dobler, 205th General Assembly (1993), PC(USA)
The Rev. John M. Fife, 204th General Assembly (1992), PC(USA)
Elder Price Gwynn III, 202nd General Assembly (1990), PC(USA)
The Rev. Charles A. Hammond, 192nd General Assembly (1980), UPCUSA
The Rev. Robert Lamar, 186th General Assembly (1974), UPCUSA
The Rev. Harriet Nelson, 196th General Assembly (1984), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Neal D. Presa, 220th General Assembly (2012), PC(USA)
Elder (Dr.) Heath Rada, 221st General Assembly (2014), PC(USA)
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 218th General Assembly (2008), PC(USA)
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, 216th General Assembly (2004), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Herbert D. Valentine, 203rd General Assembly (1991), PC(USA)
Elder William H. Wilson, 197th General Assembly (1985), PC(USA)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Work for Justice

Dear Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters,

God sends the Church to work for justice in the world: exercising its power for the common good; dealing honestly in personal and public spheres; seeking dignity and freedom for all people; welcoming strangers in the land; promoting justice and fairness in the law; overcoming disparities between rich and poor; bearing witness against systems of violence and oppression; and redressing wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples. God also sends the Church to seek peace: in the Church universal, within denominations, and at the congregational level; in the world, where nations and religious or ethnic groups make war against one another; and in local communities, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes. These acts of peacemaking and justice are established upon God’s gracious act of reconciliation with us in Jesus Christ, and are a way of participating in Christ’s priestly intercession or advocacy for the world (Directory for Worship W-5.0304).

          These beautiful words are copied from our new Directory for Worship which we recently approved. After the last General Assembly when I was studying and discussing this proposed new Directory for Worship, I remember appreciating these words. In discussing the proposed new Directory of Worship, I remember highlighting this glorious language about God sending the Church to do the work of justice. Isn’t it beautiful that this proclamation is part of our understanding of worship! Amen and Amen!

          In recent days, this beautiful language and this high calling to work for justice have flooded my heart and mind with a new urgency. And I wonder today, given how fragile and meek we Presbyterians have become in the public sphere, whether we can truly claim this calling. Can we work for justice? Can we exercise power for the common good? Can we bear witness against systems of violence and oppression?

          Today is the day for this witness. There have been recent, active expressions of Klu Klux Klan activity within the bounds of our Presbytery. They have gathered outside Churches to insult and intimidate Church people as they leave worship services. They smeared the windshields in church parking lots with their messages of hate. Maybe we want to duck our head, and sigh with relief, that it happened at a Church down the street, not my Church. Maybe we want to close our eyes grateful that it happened in a town on the other side of our Presbytery, not my town.

God sends the Church to work for justice in the world.

Every time that evil thoughts, and evil people and evil groups crawl out of their dark places where they typically stay hidden and make an appearance in the light of day, the Church must respond. Of course, we know this has happened in every era and in every generation. Now it is happening in ours.

Please organize a vigil, stand in the streets, invite every church and all your friends, light candles, read Scripture, sing hymns, say prayers and claim the calling to work for justice. At the vigil organized and gathered on the square in Chambersburg in front of our Central Presbyterian Church, our colleague Pastor Scott Bowerman said it well, “The darkness is not strong enough to put out even one candle.”

Now is the time for the Church to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this world.

In the name of Jesus!

Monday, August 21, 2017

An excellent article from Tim Cargal

I copy here a very helpful theological reflection from Tim Cargal, our Assitant Stated Clerk in the General Assembly:

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage … to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” (“A Brief Statement of Faith,” 11.65-71)

The recent events in Charlottesville and the reactions to them have had me thinking once again about idols. There are two broad ways of thinking about idols in the Christian tradition, already clearly delineated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:19-21. One is that “no idol in the world really exists” because “there is no God but one” (8:4), and the other is that idols are the very real demonic powers that exercise destructive control over people’s lives (cf. 10:20). As the years go by, I find myself more and more in the second camp.

My thinking about these matters was greatly shaped during the years of my post-graduate theological training by two individuals. From reading Walter Wink’s books on the “cosmic powers of this present darkness” (see Ephesians 6:12), I learned not to demythologize the language of the demonic in the New Testament but rather to remythologize it as the animating spirits within those institutions and structures that run counter to and actively oppose God’s justice. From my studies of Pauline theology with Daniel Patte, I learned to distinguish between two frames through which people have viewed God’s response to the demonic. One is an apocalyptic view that sees God as destroying from without both the idols and those under their sway, and the other a view that sees God unmasking and thereby destroying the power of idols from within so that those under their sway are liberated rather than destroyed. There is an ethical and moral choice we must all make in deciding whether we will view the world through the apocalyptic or the liberating frame.

Let there be no equivocation: racism, sexism, (neo-)fascism, and all other “isms” that dehumanize others who have all been created in God’s “image, according to [God’s] likeness” (Genesis 1:26-27) are demonic oppositions to God’s desire for creation, and those who parade with their flags in defense of their monuments are under the power of these idols. There can be no choice for those awakened by the Holy Spirit as to whether they will oppose these idolatrous ideologies. But we do have a choice as to whether that opposition will take apocalyptic or liberating forms. To dehumanize those under the sway of the idols only perpetuates the idols’ continuing sway over us. “If I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor” (so Galatians 2:18).

In “hear[ing] the voices of those long silenced” we can begin to unmask the idols and break their control over us. May “the Spirit give us courage” to “unmask idolatries in Church and culture” by naming the demonic without dehumanizing those still under its power until all “others [work] for justice, freedom, and peace.” 

Reverend Timothy B. Cargal, Ph.D.
Assistant Stated Clerk