Presbytery Welcomes Unbeliever As Minister
"Is Jesus God?" asked a member of the presbytery. "No," she replied. "He was filled with the spirit of God."
by Parker T. Williamson
WOODSTOWN, N.J. The United Presbyterian Church, USA, Presbytery of West Jersey, by a vote of nearly 3-1, has welcomed into the ministry a candidate who would not affirm the full deity of Christ and rejected the "idea" that Jesus died to save us from our sins.
About 18 commissioners requested that their negative votes be officially recorded as dissents, and an appeal to the presbytery’s permanent judicial commission is expected.
The Rev. Graeme Veitch, chair of the presbytery’s committee on ministry, proposed that the Rev. Helen Dekker be approved as interim minister of Haddon Heights Presbyterian Church.
This was the second time that Dekker, a minister of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands who had previously worked as an ecumenical enabler for the World Council of Churches, had come before the presbytery. The first try, in September, brought forth more questions than answers. In her written statement of faith, Dekker had a lot to say about God. "The Eternal IS," she said. "One better not question that. This is the foundation of my faith. GOD IS."
But Dekker had little to say about the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and this God. She said she was thankful that Jesus "brought me under the wings of God’s love," but beyond that, it was not clear that she saw much more in him.
That led to questions. "Is Jesus God?" asked a member of the presbytery. "No," she replied. "He was filled with the spirit of God."
So the Presbytery of West Jersey sent Dekker back to the committee on ministry for further discussion, and the committee was back again on November 19, repeating its recommendation that Dekker be approved.
Dekker opened with gratitude for "the calls, cards and flowers" that she received from supporters following the September presbytery meeting. She said that this period of examination caused her to lean more heavily upon the God of the universe who is "limitless and borderless."
"Being a disciple means being a student," she said. Scripture, "with its symbolic narrative and poetic metaphor has … shown me that God is beyond us all. His truth is enshrined in mystery."
Of Jesus, Dekker said, "His way is God’s way, and we are challenged to follow him in that way." She said that each morning when she prays to Christ, he is resurrected in her. "I am challenged to do my very best to represent Christ to others that day," she said, suggesting that when she does so, Christ is resurrected on that day in her actions.
Questions followed. The Rev. Dean Waldt, an attorney and a parish associate at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, N.J., said, "In September you said that God the Father alone is fully God. I must ask you, was Jesus of Nazareth fully the eternal God?
"The Bible does not say that God became Jesus," replied Dekker. "Jesus fully embraced the spirit of the holy God … and all of us who accept Jesus are born of God, and the spirit of God can become incarnate in US."
The Rev. Richard Carter, also of Faith Presbyterian Church, asked, "Please tell us who is saved and how."
Dekker answered, "Eternal life is not knowing God as Savior, but knowing God as God. … Our duty is to witness to God. Sometimes there are unbelievers with a better witness to the gospel than some Christians."
The Rev. David Wenkler of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Laurel Springs, N.J., asked, "Then what do you understand sin to be, and what does it mean to be lost?"
Dekker answered: "The gospel of John only used the ‘lamb of God’ twice. It said he takes away the sin of the world. I emphasize "the" in that statement … Christ was so deeply entwined with the divine and with the human that he brought the two together … When I look at the cross, that is what I see – the constant struggle to bring heaven and earth together."
Another minister spoke: "I know the committee has worked very diligently with Helen," he said. "There is some discomfort with the language and the symbols that she uses." But, he suggested, this could be nothing more than a linguistic problem. "Could you speak to this, Graeme?" he asked.
Graeme Veitch, chair of the committee on ministry, replied, "English is her second language, and this must be very uncomfortable for her In my opinion, although she is unorthodox in her expression, she is orthodox in her faith."
Dekker was excused from the room, and three members of the Haddon Heights church took the stand. The first, a woman who had served as a member of the committee that recruited Dekker, said, "She teaches us to find the Spirit in ourselves, and she has helped us rewrite our mission statement … It is a little different from what we are used to, but we feel the Spirit with Helen leading us."
A second session member, the current clerk of session, said, "I’ll never forget the first sermon I heard her preach. It was on racism and tolerance."
The third session member said, "I have learned three things about what it means to be a Presbyterian: (1) We must have an open heart, so Jesus can get inside. (2) We must be an open door to accept all races, genders, status … everything. (3) We must, have an open mind. We must be "reformed and always reforming."
"That is the definition of Presbyterianism that is being challenged tonight," he said. "In the final analysis, every Presbyterian has to come up with his own faith through study, and contemplation and prayer."
Waldt responded: "In September, we asked her if Jesus is God. She said ‘no.’ Tonight she pointed to John’s gospel and said ‘the Word remained the Word and God remained God.’ That’s not what the gospel says. It says, ‘The Word was with God and the Word was God.’ Later it says, ‘and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us …’ She is not proclaiming the gospel, and she is violating what the church has said about Jesus, certainly since the Council of Nicaea."
A minister who identified himself as a member of the Committee on Ministry jumped to his feet: "Her theology is not aberrant," he said. "She believes in the Trinity. She believes that Christ is the second person of the Trinity. She just will not affirm anything that is modalistic. A modalist says that Jesus Christ is one of God’s three forms, and she’s not going to do that."
"I was a member of the committee also," Carter said. "I heard her say she could not affirm the fall divinity of Jesus Christ or the idea of personal salvation … I submit that her statements are full of love, but they lack clarity, and they do not conform to the historic faith as affirmed in Scripture and the life of the Church."
"Many have said she is a likeable person – I agree with that," Carter continued. "And some have said that they do not want to offend her … But there are others that I cannot offend. I cannot offend that great cloud of witnesses who have affirmed the faith over the centuries. And I cannot offend the Lord of the Church. Therefore, I will have to vote against approving Rev. Dekker as a minister in this church."
Taken from ‘The Layman’ www.layman.org December 2002
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