The PCUSA still formally believes in following the Jesus revealed in the Bible to be the Lord of Creation and sole Savior of the human race. These two titles, Lord and Savior, are to be used in vows of membership and ordination taken within our church. Our Form of Government states: “After new members are examined, affirming their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and are received by the session,… they shall be presented to and welcomed by the congregation during a service of worship where they shall make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as do confirmands” (G-5.0200). Likewise, the first ordination question to be answered by those called as deacons, ruling elders or teaching elders asks this: “Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”
Unfortunately, this basic Christian affirmation does not sit well with the progressive movement, at least as defined by The Center for Progressive Christianity. The first of their eight declarations concerning what progressive Christians believe states that progressives “…have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.” This sounds harmless, perhaps even orthodox to the naive, until one reads the fuller explication offered underneath this point. As the site itself notes, what is “most unique” about this first point is what is left out rather than what it contains. “What is not included in this statement is the doctrinal “savior” language codified in the fourth century creeds.” This is not accidental, obviously. Of course, in the spirit of inclusiveness one is free to still use “savior language” of Jesus, but the more enlightened will redefine this language to a much more generalized meaning, as in “My special friend ‘saved’ me from spiralling into depression,” or some such view. Many people or spirits can serve as saviors in this sense. Hardly what the apostle Peter meant when he declared of Jesus in Acts 4:12 “For there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Progressive Christians apparently don’t want to be boxed in to believing that Jesus is humankind’s only hope, only Savior. What they mean by savior, if they use the term at all “…This is quite different, however, from assuming that to be a Christian one must believe that God made an intentional sacrifice of God’s only begotten son as a cosmic saving act for all humanity. And it is different from assuming that it is only through one’s belief in the “truth” of this sacrifice that one can call oneself a Christian.”
I’m not making this stuff up.
Now to be fair, the first progressive point does say that they are committed to following the example of Jesus’ life and teaching. Well, apparently any actions or teachings that do not demonstrate Jesus’ nature as Savior or Lord. What do they do with declarations like, “The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Or, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” These are just two out of scores and scores of passages highlighting Jesus’ salvific and dominical roles. How folks can claim to follow Jesus’ life and teachings while denying the climax of his atoning work on the cross and his authority which transcends all competitors is beyond me. Yet these progressives (the ones for whom The Center speaks, that is) see in this first point a way to follow Jesus and connect with God that undercuts the central doctrines of Christian orthodoxy: the Lordship of Christ and his full divinity, the atoning work of the cross; the fallenness of human nature; the exclusivity of salvation through Christ and the cross alone. But allow me to let them say this in their own words:
“Rather than assuming that Jesus is a sacrificial savior, or “The Savior,” this first statement suggests that one can be a Christian by considering oneself a follower of Jesus’ teachings and using his life, as we know it, as a model. It can also be implied that for those Christians Jesus and Jesus’ teaching provide a way to experience, relate to or approach that Energy, that Force or that Presence we choose to call God.”
This shift of understanding also entails jettisoning from Jesus the title “Lord of the world.” He would rather be called “Master, or Rabbi, or Teacher,” we are told. But how do we deal with passages such as Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!” which Jesus receives with no qualms or alarm, but as rightly spoken? Or his own teaching in Mt. 7:22, “On that day (of judgment) many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord…, and then I will declare to them…”? Such an exalted status for Jesus does not fit the progressive agenda, which seems to be to lift the stature of humanity by degrading that of Jesus. Again in their own words,
“Rather than treating Jesus as the unreachable perfect God that is so hard to relate to for most people, we can think of Jesus as the enlightened teacher who asks only to be followed. By taking his teachings seriously we are given the opportunity to change and see and hear what we did not see before. This form of Christianity does not assume an ontological “fallen nature” of humanity, as Paul did out of his own life experience. Quite to the contrary it assumes that by taking responsibility for our thoughts, our action and our motives, by learning and changing our actions when they have caused harm to others or to ourselves, we humans can grow, evolve and transform.”
Progressive Christianity is in the end a pull yourself up by the bootstraps enlightened humanism, where Jesus works as our Olympic coach to help us get the very best we can out of ourselves. No nasty fallen nature, no dark enemy preventing us from advancing (except perhaps orthodox Christianity, which argues that we are dead in our sins and trespasses), no brutal cross or bloodied savior, no holy God too righteous to look upon sin.
Now I realize that not all who call themselves progressive Christians would want to go as far as TCPC website does, but this is the logical endpoint of progressive premises. Do our progressive Presbyterian leaders believe these insanities? If not, I’d like to know from them what they believe and what they don’t. If they no longer accept the clear teachings of the Scriptures and the central Reformed doctrines of our Confessions, let them say so with their heads held high. We’ll be glad to send them out of the PCUSA with our blessings so they can start a progressive church with their own gospel, their own Jesus and their own agenda, hand in hand with the rest of the world. Just don’t try to take our church down that path. We know where it leads.