Response to this site and e-mail correspondence

This important page of e-mails refers frequently to Doug Koop’s article in Christian Week, posted on the initial segment of Press articles - Tony Copple

Date: 9-Jan-98 1:10 PM
From Gail Reid
Dear Friends:
Like me, many of you are getting weighed down by the Phipps controversy and our natural instinct is to want to forget about it and go on with our work. At the same time I believe it is important to stay informed, so with that intent, I pass this editorial by Doug Koop on to you from Christian Week, a biweekly interdenominational newspaper. You can read other news by visiting their website: .
Your comments are always welcome. Blessings


From: D. Shearman[]
Sent: January 9, 1998 3:06 PM

Gail, a couple of things. The attached file you sent was corrupted. I was able to read it by doing a couple of workarounds I know, but it may be problematic for others. The file is probably unreadable in a standard word processor. Second, the editorial shows what appears to be a complete lack of understanding of what the United Church is. I am saddened by Koop's potshots at us. Unfortunately it shows his ignorance, more than anything else.

The most grevious error on Koop's part is that he forgets we are *not* a creedal church. One does not have to subscribe to a creedal statement to belong to the United Church of Canada!

Second, he does *not* understand what "essential agreement" is and how it binds us together. It allows the differences he decries while keeping us "in one house". Sadly, most UCCAN people don't know what "essential agreement" is, either. It comes out of our Congregational stream, and is one of the most cherished rights I believe we have.

David Shearman


From: Steve Clarke (CA-ComDevDir)[SMTP:SCLARKE@CAPC.CI.ORG]
Sent: January 9, 1998 5:01 PM
Dear Mr. Shearman:

The point you make about political fine-points is interesting. However, I would suggest that it is you who is misguided when you contend that the United Church is "... *not* a creedal church."

There are some people, many in senior leadership positions in the United Church (including the present Moderator), who have chosen to reject the Twenty Articles of Faith in the Basis of Union -- a key part of the United Church's constitution -- which is *indeed* the denomination's creed. The fact that these individuals ignore this creed is one thing. However, taking things one step further by claiming that no United Church creed exists is nothing short of ridiculous! In practice, such people who are rejecting the clearly written, historical beliefs of the denomination are winking at what could really be labeled "essential disagreement."

I would argue instead that Mr. Koop is indeed onto something in his article, and he is rightly pointing out that as far as Mr. Phipps' attempts at defence are concerned, "the Emperor has no clothes." There isn't any doubt that Mr. Phipps' statements / beliefs are in flagrant violation of many of the United Church's Twenty Articles.

Even a cursory reading of the United Church Manual would suggest that -- quite apart from any considerations about his role as Moderator -- Mr. Phipps' status as a member in good standing in his own congregation could indeed be challenged, because he is nowhere near the identity of being in "essential agreement" with the Twenty Articles.

Here is another significant point. The term "essential agreement" is a rarely used expression within United Church terminology. But when it is used, it is almost always in context with the Twenty Articles!

I might add that you are correct in stating that "essential agreement" comes out of the Congregational stream of the United Church. I am a former member of the United Church and have been member of the Congregational Christian Churches in Canada since 1991. I can state with confidence that the Congregational definition of "essential agreement," as it exists today -- and as it existed at the United Church's Basis of Union in 1925 -- would *never* be stretched to include Mr. Phipps' personal denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his personal beliefs in regard to the resurrection.

My guess is that the vast majority of United Church people, if they were given a chance to vote, would heartily endorse the Twenty Articles affirmations ... and flatly reject the beliefs of Mr. Phipps and others whose beliefs are clearly outside the realm of historic Christianity.


Steve Clarke


By Gail Reid:

Dear David, (and perhaps others who can help)
Let's remember first of all that Doug Koop is looking at us from outside. He would not be familiar with how we operate or what we use to unite us. And although I felt hurt by the stereotypes, they are real and we must admit how we are "perceived" in order to change them. He did call them stereotypes.

But putting Koop aside I would really like to hear more about two things you have mentioned David. When I interviewed Bill Phipps in September, he also mentioned that we (UCC) are not a creedal church or a doctrinal church. I had never even heard this before in 40 years in the UCC. I am sitting in the pews, so perhaps I missed discussion at a ministerial level. But where does this concept come from. Is it laid out in the Manual somewhere or is it part of some official decision? Phipps actually had trouble explaining it.

And what do you think "essential agreement" really means? I am assuming that "something" is considered essential. Something that without which there can be no agreement or unity?

Do you think that we have become vague on a lot of this because of our desire to be loving and open to all who seek God? Or perhaps with ministers who we are hesitant to judge "uncalled" by God? It is true we cannot stand in the way of others, but I feel the need for some "fellowship" of beliefs--even if it is that each of us has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That for me would be a beginning.

Blessings Gail


From: Jim Breen

Dear Folks,
In response to Doug Koops article in Christian Week there were some e-mails. I would like to respond to the responses ...

What is this foolishness about trying to hide behind the words "The UCC is not a creedal church?????" The United Church does have a belief and a belief system whether it wants to acknowledge it or not. That "belief" or "lack there of" has a content and that content shapes actions and lifestyle ... Jesus put it more simply "By their fruit you shall know them!" With this in mind Doug Koops' article is accurate and true! The vast majority of Christians outside of our denomination think we are nuts by the fruit they see coming from us!!! Kind of like that weird uncle who comes home for Christmas and does embarrassing things but that family doesn't quite know how to deal with. I know this from my many "Ecumenical friends and relatives, which include, "Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Religious Nones, Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Reformed Churches Presbyterians!" I am secretary for the local ministerial association and they say the same as KOOP!

As an ordained minister of the United Church I am constantly dealing with the very issues that Koop has identified! It is about time we faced up to the reality of what people outside our denomination think of us! Over Christmas several relatives who do not any longer attend church said they personally shared the doubts that the moderator had expressed but were confused by one thing! "What the h ... (heck) is he doing trying to lead a Christian Church". They called him "Dishonest!" They added universally that if the Moderator and the United church think that by making space for people with such non-beliefs about Jesus they would come back to church ... "they're crazy!" As one cousin put it, "If I don't need to worship Jesus but just follow him as a prophet ... I am already doing that .... at home!!!!

In regards to the Moderator being within the traditional Christian>Faith that is a joke!!!! As long as he refuses to worship Jesus ... (as he told me in response to my question at His London Ontario visit to Metroplitan United Church) he is outside the bounds of "Historic Christianity". That statement on Vision T.V. did not contradict his previous statements! He was just silently redefining his terms ... to state ... "I am comfortable SAYING that Jesus is the word made flesh" is another example of the "radical Theologians" in the tradition of Tillich, using traditional language to say very different things!!! (If I am wrong! If Phipps will worship Jesus as the eternal Second Person of the Trinity Please I want to know & I will be over joyed!)

The issue in all of this is which Jesus are we "worshipping" or "following"? The Jesus of the Bible and the Christian tradition or another Jesus with another Gospel of the Jesus Seminar Style. So regardless of whether a creed is a "fence" or a "stake". The question is "Who do you say that I am!!!" (Jesus Christ to Peter & the others)! The answer really matters for the answer shapes who we are and what we say / confess to our people and the world!

If Jesus is the divine Son of God who has come to save the world through the cross and promises to "Live in us" by his Holy Spirit to make us adopted children of God the Father (Romans 8). Then we sinners living in a fallen messed up world can go to him for forgiveness and open ourselves up to experience his grace empowering us to new life as Jesus saves the World and brings in His Kingdom! So we offer our people and the world the grace of Christ! This is good News (Gospel)"Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened!" Matthew 11:28

The alternative Phipps presents, is one of works not grace! If Jesus is only a prophet whom we should listen to then we are only given hard work to save the world. Since Jesus the dead prophet did not address every issue then we don't live in "relationship with him today" but before God! As we seek to live "responsibly before God" chosing the best ways we can figure out to bring in the Kingdom ... on a practical level are left trying to save the world. Phipps' own language about social action betrays this orientation. The United Church of Canada has even adopted this orientation in the "Majority Abortion Report Accepted by the General Council. (early 1980's I Think)

This position says (as does the Abortion Report) to our people and the world that WE must live "responsibly BEFORE God", WE must make the most life giving decision WE can make given our situation. Thus WE may at time have to choose the lesser to two evils! We are left on our own to save the world!! (This is bad news)

Please think and pray about how we can give goodnews ... the Good News of Jesus Christ (The Jesus of the Bible) to a sinful church and world!

Yours in Christ

Rev. Jim Breen
Alvinston Ontario
I will have to check an ethics paper I wrote for seminary about the Abortion Issue in which I called this orientation "Practical Atheism!" To give you the exact date if the report!(Its at the office and its late) Read the Abortion Report for yourselves!!! The language frighteningly leaves no active role for God!


From: D. Shearman[]
Sent: January 11, 1998 8:32 AM
Subject: Re: For Your Information

Jim, it's not foolishness. It's fact. There is *no* creedal affirmation required when one professes one's faith in Jesus Christ in joining the United Church of Canada. That does not mean that we lack faith or theology! Not at all! We can affirm any number of historical creeds of the church as valid expressions of faith.. but that doesn't make us a creedal church!

Aas for Koop's issues, frankly I don't give a whistle's itch what he or my colleagues in other denominations think about my church. Last time I checked, it was more important to do as Christ called than to worry about what others thought.

This is the same freedom which allows me to say that the moderator's words have as much weight as mine. He is simply the presiding officer of a church court. He has responsibility in that position, but so do I. And so do you. I can also walk away from what he says. And I choose to. as my Session has advised.

As for the position on abortion, how about bringing it up on the DMC radar? If there is faulty theology (and there well could be), then get the presbytery or Conference DMC to bring the matter forward. Use the process, man!

David Shearman


From: Rev. Iain Macdonald

I reply to David and Steve as respecting the communications below. Whether or not the United Church is a credal church is one thing. Whether the moderator is outside the pale so far as the Articles of Faith are concerned, is in my book, a settled issue.

Judging by his statement of Vision TV of November, I'm quite satisfied that he is in "essential agreement" with the Articles and the traditional faith.

Where he is perhaps less than orthodox is in his way of launching stimulating crusades to get people talking about Jesus.

I find continuing grumbling about Phipps after the Vision remarks has a somewhat grudging or even nasty flavour to it-- "Oh, he doesn't really mean that-- too late to say that now."

The best I can do is fault him for an early-term bad case of foot-in-mouth disease, and then get on with the rest of life. Whatever happened to "forgive and forget?"

Cheers & blessings Iain


From: D. Shearman[]
Sent: January 10, 1998 1:41 PM

Agreed, Iain. The discipline of the moderator is not my responsibility. His status is that of Calgary Presbytery. End of discussion.

David Shearman


From: D. Shearman[]

Ah! There is life on this list!

No. I stand by the statement that the United Church is *not* a creedal church. That means that one is not required to subscribe to a specific, historical creed in order to profess one's faith. One is *not* required to sign a creedal statement in order to be a member. We use the words "a credible profession of faith" to determine membership. the judge of that credible profession is the Session or equivilent body. That does *not* OTOH, prevent you or me from personally subscribing to a particular set of beliefs which find expression in a historic creed of the Christian Church, or a particular expression of faith of the United Church of Canada.

It is this point that Koop has missed completely.

As for the moderator, certainly he has no clothes. I suggest he not appear in public that way, though. Any discipline of him is up to Calgary Presbytery. And they have, so far, declined to act.

And no, the Basis of Union including the 20 Articles of Faith are *not* a creedal statement. They are an expression of faith that was developed nearly a hundred years ago. That makes them helpful in our faith life but *not* definitive. To make them so is to turn them into an idol.. and you *know* what the OT says about idols .

David Shearman


From: Steve Clarke (CA-ComDevDir)[SMTP:SCLARKE@CAPC.CI.ORG]
Sent: January 12, 1998 2:00 PM
Subject: Second response to David Shearman:

Dear David:
Thank you for your essentially good-natured reply to my position on the "creedal church." However, I see your nerves are getting frayed as others join in this dialogue.

Before I go any further may I go on record in stating that my motive for writing is not to "win" by delivering the most clever argument. I am a "saint who sins" like any other Christian, and my words must be judged by objective standards. My further communication in this ongoing dialogue is because I feel we all need to be *truth seekers* in this matter, rather than victors on the basis of our own opinions. I firmly believe that proceeding with this motive is the only approach that will honour our Lord. We must not be diverted by well-intentioned expressions like "inclusiveness" and "diversity," which can have the unfortunate side effect of suppressing effective, much-needed discussion and conflict resolution.

Having stating that, I must continue to take exception to your position that the United Church is not a creedal church. The difficulty, as I see it, is that your argument and mine proceed on different tracks. From my perspective, you are trying (feverishly!) to enclose the term "creedal" into a tiny box by claiming that "*no* creedal affirmation is required when one professes one's faith in Jesus Christ in joining the United Church of Canada. You are correct in that limited respect: there is no General Council Executive, Conference or Presbytery church police breathing down the necks of local ministers, requiring a creedal affirmation in this respect. But my contention is that what makes the United Church "creedal" is something infinitely more *foundational* than that. My feeling is that you are operating on a series of assumptions, based on an insufficient definition.

Let us first look at the word "creedal." It comes from the Latin "credo", meaning "I believe." I looked up "creed" in the Webster's dictionary. It defines it as "a summary of articles of religious belief."

When members join a congregation within the United Church, the Book of Common Order provides a membership outline. New members are required to make a profession of faith / profession of belief ("credo"), responding to *creedal questions*. It is not likely to be the Twenty Articles or the Apostle's Creed, but the theme is that the confession is to be in step with the historic beliefs of Christianity -- as shared / corroborated by all the great creeds.

And now, let us turn to the Twenty Articles of Faith.

David, I'm sorry, but your statement in your reply to me in regard to the Twenty Articles is both inaccurate and patronizing. Your position on this unfortunately demonstrates a 'revisionist' approach to United Church history. You cannot just dismiss the Twenty Articles as just another, quaint document from almost "100 years ago" (to use your chronology). The faith statements found in it formed the "essential agreement," if you will, that led to the merging of denominations to create the Basis for Union in 1925. Each of the founding denominations internally approved its contents prior to the negotiations that led to the Union. Each of the founding church denominations took its contents very seriously, and clearly expected the newly formed denomination to make use of it as a highly significant moral / faith practice rudder.

Also, I trust that your statement about "idolatry" of worshipping creeds such as the Twenty Articles was just some tongue-in-cheek fun on your part. Of course we don't worship creeds. We don't worship the Bible, either, although we do recognize it as the "primary source and ultimate standard." What we *do* worship is the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, risen from the dead (fully God and fully man) - and we follow the Great Commission and Great Commandment, as divinely established by our Lord. However, knowing that we are "saints who sin" within this fallen order, the Twenty Articles, The Apostles Creed and other great creedal statements and of course the Scriptures all steer our faith, helping to keep us on the straight-and-narrow of following our Lord (instead of succumbing to worldly desires of the sinful nature).

Interestingly enough, in the preamble to the Twenty Articles, the document's authors carefully assert that its statements are to be held within the accountability of a much larger framework:

"We build upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. We affirm our belief in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the primary source and ultimate standard of Christian faith and life. We acknowledge the teaching of the great creeds of the ancient Church. We further maintain our allegiance to the evangelical doctrinal standards of the Reformation."

What impresses United Church members and adherents about the Twenty Articles (and indeed people of other denominations) is their sense of balance -- and reverence for the Good News that our Lord proclaims. I firmly believe that as a humanly produced document (with all its inherent limitations), it is one of the finest faith creedal statements of the Twentieth Century. And it doesn't matter a whit to me that it is nearing 100 years in age. God's truth is eternal and unchanging, and I think these Articles are one of the best efforts to date in a human attempt to reflect and celebrate our Creator's truth. New is not always better; nor, conversely, do we live in the past. We must measure truth as objectively as we can by ensuring that the new does not contradict those things we know to be foundational.

Further to the Twenty Articles.

They cannot be equated with other creedal statements produced by the United Church and conveniently dismissed or ignored in regard to the Phipps controversy. And it is this following point that is of such extreme embarrassment to the General Council Executive -- and all who would support Phipps in his statements re the resurrection and Jesus' identity as fully God and fully man. The Twenty Articles of Faith document in the Basis of Union forms a key part of the denomination's constitution. The Articles are really, in effect, the UCCAN's mission statement. In fact, their stature is so overwhelmingly significant in the bedrock of the denomination's constitution, they cannot be repealed without a complicated process of remit. Because they are enshrined constitutionally, *nothing* in terms of faith statements produced since carries the same weight of authority within the denomination. So, David, they are extremely authoritative in this present controversy. And they certainly won't cease to be so without a remit.

And that creates the dilemma. The Twenty Articles are just full of affirmations of Jesus *Christ* as our Lord and Saviour. Read them again for yourself, David. The document's position is crystal-clear in regard to the resurrection. And if we follow it as *the* primary guideline, then are members and adherents "worshipping the Twenty Articles?" Absolutely not! For the Articles are in step -- consistent with -- all of the great creeds and statements of the Christian Church throughout the centuries.

The Twenty Articles, to use an analogy, are like the sprocket holes on a movie film. When we watch a movie, we don't concentrate on the sprocket holes. We concentrate on the movie presentation (our Lord Jesus Christ). Evenly manufactured, consistently spaced sprocket holes guide the projector (our faith) in faithfully composing the image without distortions. On the other hand, uneven sprocket holes (affirmations that contradict the core, historic beliefs of the church) would trip-up the projector, distort the image, and perhaps cause the machine to seize-up altogether. Of course, all analogies have their limitations, but I'm sure you see my point.

One of the individuals on our e-mail list asked why we can't just forgive and forget about the Phipps scenario. Is it because we are mean-spirited, vindictive, or hopelessly reactionary, or something like that? No. This Phipps issue has stirred response from clear across the 'political' perspective within the United Church (and outside, as my denomination and others have also examined this situation).

David, in your response to Rev. Jim Breen you say "frankly I don't give a whistle's itch what [Koop] or my colleagues in other denominations think about my church." David, I say this in all gentleness and humility, realizing that the same is true for me. You *need* to care. In the Christian community we must hold each other accountable to the *core beliefs* of Christianity. There are many contentious, but non-essential disputes within denominations and between denominations. (Even in my own denomination, the Congregational Christian Churches in Canada, we must temper our disputes on the non-essentials by our statement "In essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; in all things, Charity." )

But the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the truth of the resurrection are *core* beliefs and cannot be tampered with (unless you want to start a new faith that is not Christianity). The overwhelming response to Mr. Phipps' statements in and outside the church, and from so many quarters, shows that this is not a fringe issue. The weight of evidence, mounting at an alarming rate, is that Mr. Phipps is completely out of line, in relation to his denomination's constitution and widely held beliefs, and in relationship to Christendom at large.

I would certainly like to respond to your comments about Congregationalism, but this reply is already turning into a book. I apologise to the administrator of this recipient list for its length, and I promise not to clog the forum with further long messages.

The bottom line, David, is I don't care about winning an argument about creedal concerns as they relate to the United Church of Canada. But I *do* care about the hurt and damage that Mr. Phipps' statements have caused, because I believe there are objective ways in which it can be demonstrated that his positions are unacceptable for a Moderator in a Christian church. I offer my opinions, acknowledging that in like-manner to Mr. Phipps I am personally far from perfect, and doubtlessly hold beliefs that grieve my Lord. The same could be said of my denomination. My prayer is that others continue to hold up a mirror to me and my church when we stray from core truth.

Let us continue to be resolved to be "truth seekers," and may the Lord alone be the victor.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Steve Clarke