To avoid giving my readers a headache from the very long and convoluted history of splits and mergers that is the Presbyterian Church in America, let me give an extreme simplification of it. This follows the pattern of a number of churches in America. There was a mainline church which began modernizing in the early 20th century. Many in the Church disagreed with this modernizing. One group split early on and formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (which I blogged about earlier). In the 1970's conservative Presbyterian bodies that had split from the mainline bodies merged into the Presbyterian Church in America which continued acquiring several other conservative bodies. Meanwhile, most of the mainline Presbyterian churches merged into the more liberal Presbyterian Church USA.
This lead to the common pattern we see in many churches in America of a moderate to progressive branch (in this case the Presbyterian Church USA), a strongly orthodox and conservative branch (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), and a church that falls somewhere in the middle (the conservative Presbyterian Church in America being this church).
Beliefs of the Presbyterian Church in America:
- Belief in the Trinity.
- Belief Jesus is the Messiah and second person of the Trinity fully God and fully man.
- Mankind is sinful and totally depraved due to Adam's first sin. All of mankind is born worthy of Hell and damnation.
- God has chosen people from every nation and time to save through his own mercy. These sinners are undeserving of God's mercy.
- Christ's death and resurrection atoned for the sins of those he would save.
- The Spirit sanctifies those who God has chosen to save.
- Those whom God has chosen to save are saved by grace through faith alone. They will endure to the end and lead lives pleasing to God.
- The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
- At death, the souls of the saved go immediately into the presence of God. All others go to Hell for all eternity.
- Baptism by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion for infants and adults. Sign of entering into the Covenant with God.
- Christ will return.
- Practice communion as a means of grace.
- Sex outside of marriage is sinful.
- Homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's will.
- Divorce not permitted except in the case of adultery or abandonment.
- Abortion in all cases is wrong.
- Women may not be ordained to the ministry.
So what was a Sunday like at Grace Presbyterian Church?
Grace Presbyterian Church is a beautiful, modern building. Originally the building was a Lutheran church but was sold to the Presbyterians. They have maintained the beauty of it. The exterior is a white brick building that is spiraled like a nautilus shell. There are lovely gardens outside which include trees and flowers.
The building has a couple stained glass windows. This one is my favorite.
The interior of the chapel was lovely. I'm sure when the Lutheran church was here it was probably slightly more ornate. But Presbyterians being Calvinists, simplicity in worship spaces is always the order of the day. But this chapel proves that simplicity doesn't mean it can't be pleasing to the eye or elegant. I loved the shape of the room, the lighting with both natural and artificial light, the cross on the wall behind the sanctuary, and the overall appearance of the room.
Overall, very elegant and simplistic atmosphere with lovely design.
There weren't a lot of people in this congregation, maybe 20 to 30 at most. The congregation was mostly white and people of every age, though primarily older. When we first entered the building, there was a man, who later turned out to be the pastor, who came and greeted us. He gave us a quick tour of the church and welcomed us. Most people didn't really go out of their way to talk to us, but a few did and nobody seemed to question why we were there or not want us there.
Overall, the people seemed warm and friendly. Not much else to say about them.
The service was fairly basic, and what I've come to expect from traditional Protestant services. The really nice part about it was the music. I'm amazed that of all the churches I've visited, that violins and cellos haven't really been utilized. But instead of a contemporary music band up front, they had people playing string instruments and violins in a very traditional manner.
They sand a traditional hymn, the pastor offered an opening prayer, announcements were made, a few more hymns were sung, and a collection taken. There was then a confession prayer done. This was pretty much just the pastor up in front praying to God explaining to him all the horrible things we do as people, but assuring that God's grace will save us.
Afterward, the pastor gave the sermon, per usual, more about that in the next section. After the sermon, there was another hymn and a blessing given from the Bible.
Overall, very basic service. The music was amazing. I wish I could hear more violin and cello music in churches.
The sermon was part of a series on the Ten Commandments. This week's sermon was on the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder," or more poetically in the King James Version, "Thou shalt not kill."
The pastor started by saying that very few of us have ever actually killed anybody and that this commandment often seems the least relevant to our lives. But, that this commandment has a lot of relevance to us today.
He said that children witness thousands of murders before their eighteenth birthdays and most of these simulated on television. He said that we are a culture obsessed with violence, death, and murder in our entertainments. He talked about how we become very desensitized to these acts of violence to when we see them in reality, they often don't carry the same amount of shock that they should. Indeed, it takes more and more violence to shock us in our entertainment.
He borrowed a phrase from Pope John Paul II that he feels sums up our society, he called us a culture of death. He said that this persistent violence has caused us to cheapen life. But that this isn't anything new. He talked about how ancient cultures all had prohibitions against murder, but that these cultures often had laws about vengeance that were brutal and often involved murder. But that the Bible puts human life on a pedestal and God truly values life as this commandment says.
I have to say, this is complete rubbish. The Bible doesn't put a strong value on human life. There's the commandment not to murder, then there are plenty of offenses that are capital offenses. Among them are:
- Working on the Sabbath.
- Not being a virgin on your wedding night.
- Being a rebellious child.
- Cursing the name of God.
The Bible also has God commanding genocides, allowing people to slaughter entire towns and take up wives from the surviving inhabitants. The Bible puts no more value on life than any other ancient culture. We've just grown accustom to not reading the Bible or looking at unsavory details of it through rose tinted glasses. The Bible's morality is far more brutal and inconsistent than our modern morality. It's an ancient book with ancient values that are very troubling to our modern sensibilities and have to be explained away to most audiences.
He then talked about how we all are guilty of enjoying violence in media. He even listed some of his favorite shows that were violent proving he's not above this. He didn't offer a solution to this. He said that we can't just live in a world where all we do is watch The Andy Griffith Show and pretend everything is fine. But that we need to address just how much we have come to glorify violence.
I liked this part of the sermon. Whether you agree with him or not, he does touch on a very real issue with no easy solution.
He then lost me with this statement. He said that our culture allowing things like abortion or teaching evolution cheapens life. When you're just another rung on the latter, life is meaningless so it's easy to not value life.
For the sake of a shorter blog, I'll leave the abortion portion of that out. Abortion is a very complicated subject with a lot to talk about and I can see where he comes from on that. But evolution, no. We're going to talk about that. I talked about that with the Seventh-day Adventist blog, but evolution doesn't cheapen life. Not for most. Evolution doesn't just say we're another rung on the latter. Characterizing this is a misrepresentation of evolution. Evolution simply says that over time, species change in relation to their environment. Those most suited to their environment survive in larger numbers and survive. Those not well adapted to their environment die out over time. That's it. We're not progressing towards something greater and greater with some end goal of a perfect species. We're simply adapting to our current environment. Humans are able to control our environments allowing us to adapt to diverse environments, but we adapt nonetheless using air conditioning, heating, farming, etc. A polar bear isn't any better than a lion. Both would die in the other's environment because they're not suited to it. But in their native environments, they flourish because they adapt to it.
I hate that he had the nerve to say believing in evolution was on par with accepting murder. Evolution is just a scientific truth we've uncovered. It has no moral teaching in and of itself. But for me personally, evolution doesn't cheapen human life. Instead, it makes it more meaningful for me. Instead of thinking we're these creatures God put here to subdue the earth, I realize now that we're just one species among many, and we rely on them because we're part of their web of life. All life becomes meaningful at that point. The fact that we're the survivors to this point together is pretty remarkable.
American religious culture has this horrible habit of painting evolution and any science that disagrees with a very narrow view of the Bible as evil and murderous. If you believe in these things, you're evil and no better than a murderer is what is said from the pulpit. Of course people aren't going to investigate this stuff. They're scared of losing their souls or that they'll become monsters. Most only parrot what the church or pseudoscience literature say about it in order to keep their faith strong. They're not truly interested in science, but in maintaining their beliefs at any cost. This has got to change. Science isn't the enemy. Science has helped us extend our lifespans, visit space, create medicines, expand our populations, live in places once considered uninhabitable, etc. These advances are due to the same things that led us to understand evolution, in fact, much of modern medicine depends entirely on our understanding of evolution. Denying science is a death warrant for sliding back into another dark age.
Overall, other than the evolution comment, I felt that this was a good sermon to bring up because people do need to talk about things like this. Whether you agree or not, at least the discussion is being had.
The church atmosphere was good, the people friendly, and believe it or not, I even liked the sermon and found it engaging. I had a good time at Grace Presbyterian Church. I don't know that I would go back, but it was rewarding to go.
Only four more religions left! It's so exciting being at this point. I have something special planned for all of you after this blog is done, but I need to get more details on it. Thanks to everyone for everything so far.
Until next time, peace be with you.