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Open and shut

National | A Baptist group rejects "open theology," but not its chief advocate, while Presbyterians debate beliefs

Issue: "UK: Two faiths collide," July 22, 2000

Boyd's special opening
How much does God know, and when did He know it? Controversy over the answer to that question has threatened to split the Baptist General Conference (WORLD, July 17, 1999), a largely evangelical denomination with about 140,000 members in some 875 churches. But late last month, delegates to the BGC annual meeting by a standing vote overwhelmingly affirmed that "God's knowledge of all past, present, and future events is exhaustive," and that "the 'Openness' view of God's foreknowledge is contrary to our fellowship's historic understanding of God's omniscience." The meeting took place on the campus of Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. Greg Boyd, pastor of 3,000-congregant Woodland Hills Baptist Church in St. Paul who also writes books and teaches theology at Bethel College, is at the center of the controversy. Mr. Boyd contends that "God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people he creates until he creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions." Mr. Boyd's opponents argue that this view is not found in Scripture or the historic confessions, and they limit God's sovereignty and omniscience. So, what to do about Mr. Boyd? Within an hour of their first vote, the delegates-sitting also as the oversight body of Bethel-voted 423 to 363 to permit Mr. Boyd to remain in his teaching post. In negotiations with BGC leaders, Bethel administrators already had agreed not to hire new faculty members who advocate open theism. The delegates seemed to be ruling out the BGC as a safe haven for open theists, except one: a friend and fellow pastor who happens to be perhaps the most famous advocate of open theism in the entire country. Genesis is real
With about 1,200 churches and 230,000 members, the 27-year-old Presbyterian Church in America has faced disagreements of late in some of its regional presbyteries. At issue: how the Bible should be interpreted on some crucial issues. After hearing a study committee's report, a majority of the some 1,000 delegates at the denomination's General Assembly in Tampa last month agreed the PCA should recognize a diversity of interpretations about the length of the creation days in Genesis "as long as the full historicity of the creation account is accepted." Another thorny issue involved Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and its pastor, John Wood. In 1998 the church's director of women's ministries spoke at two Sunday evening services. Afterward, several presbyteries filed formal charges against Mr. Wood, claiming a female presence in the pulpit violated the PCA constitution. Cedar Springs, however, said the woman was authorized to speak by the church's elders, and its Tennessee Valley Presbytery agreed there had been no violation of doctrine because the evening meetings were not worship services. The General Assembly took jurisdiction in the matter and directed a PCA court to hear the case and to receive testimony from both sides. The PCA delegates also called for the ouster of the Christian Reformed Church from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council if it does not reverse its position of allowing the ordination of women as ruling elders and pastors. An "irreconcilable impasse?"
As expected, the matter of same-sex unions was the most debated issue at the 212th general assembly of the 2.6-million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last month in Long Beach, Calif. When the moment arrived to vote, the 558 commissioners (voting delegates) paused for silent and spoken prayers. Soon hushed singing of "Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me" filled the hall. And then they voted 268 to 251, with some abstaining, to send to the denomination's 173 presbyteries a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex union ceremonies. If a majority of the presbyteries ratify it, it will become part of the Book of Order, the PCUSA's constitution.

  • Voted 257 to 225 to delay until next year's assembly all actions related to the fidelity-in-marriage and chastity-in-singleness clause in the Book of Order.
    • Rejected 453 to 71 a measure from a western Pennsylvania presbytery declaring that an "irreconcilable impasse" over biblical authority, basic Christian doctrines, ethics, and leadership exists within the denomination. In its rejection, the assembly said the differences within the church add to its strength.
      • Defeated by wide margins proposals to reduce giving to the debt-ridden National Council of Churches. The PCUSA funded the NCC to the tune of nearly $2.8 million last year, just a shade lower than the much larger United Methodist Church, the NCC's biggest donor.
        • Elected as moderator Syngman Rhee, 69, a liberal seminary missions professor and former church official.

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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