What future do our Presbyterian bureaucrats and liberal lobbyists propose for our denomination? Last month, two statements crafted by such leaders after the passage of 10-A were made public. Each provides some hints or bold declarations of their dreams.
24 of our former GA moderators co-wrote a missive to urge the church to remain unified in the aftermath of this sea-change on ordination standards. They acknowledge that even among themselves there are those who worked hard for this day to come and those who fought against it. Yet now that it has come, they say together that it is time to move forward ” as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”
I am bemused by this rallying cry. Apparently these leaders have determined that the respective convictions behind both the pro and anti positions are really not contradictory, or if they are they are not all that important in Kingdom terms, and so we should embrace unity. But this seems to me like asking oil and water to blend themselves together, or like trying to get north and south poles to walk hand in hand at the equator, or, to be more biblical, to get light and darkness to dwell together in harmony. Such efforts are doomed to failure, even when attempted in the name of diversity. The former moderators call us to be a missional expression of the body of Jesus Christ. But, I ask myself, which mission are we supposed to express: the mission which calls all sinners to repent and receive the forgiving and redeeming love of Jesus Christ, or the one which proclaims that you are good as you are, that God accepts you unconditionally and we are all one big happy family regardless of behaviors or convictions? And how are we to understand the ideal of the body of Christ — as the place where we embrace biblical and unbiblical standards, accepting views and behaviors outside the bounds of Scripture and confessions in the name of love, or as the fellowship which seeks to emulate and honor Jesus Christ in its strivings for truth and righteousness through the Spirit? As I read 1 Cor 6, where Paul castigates the Corinthian believers for arrogantly embracing immorality in their midst, reminds them that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and commands them to cleanse out the old leaven and to celebrate life together with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” it is clear that ongoing immorality among the people of God is not to be tolerated. But our moderators are asking us to do just that, unless they have all concluded against the great weight of biblical evidence that extramarital forms of sexual union are not sinful in themselves.
Why this call to unity? These former leaders make their presuppositions clear in this statement:
We believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not. Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.
All of us are needed, we are told — our voices need to be heard and our gifts expressed. I wish they had come to this conviction back when there were 2 million more Presbyterians in the denomination, but over the last 40 years our moderators and other leaders have been pursuing their own visions, heedless of the voices of those who in frustration or disgust finally slipped quietly away to oblivion or to other more faithful denominations. But in reality it’s not true that the PCUSA “needs” us all, regardless of our stance on 10-A. What our church needs are those who are committed to living for Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, molded in behavior and vision by the revealed Word of God. If the Lord removes His favor from this institution, then all the voices and gifts of human beings harnessed together will accomplish nothing of importance.
Once again the tired saw “Our unity is strengthened by our diversity” is mindlessly trotted out. Thinking people know that unity is not always strengthened by diversity. The unity of concrete is not strengthened by the diversity of soils added to it; steel is not strengthened by the diversity of elements added to it. Indeed in such cases, adding the wrong things causes concrete to crumble and steel to crack. Only when the right elements are combined in the right proportions, does the proper diversity create greater strength of unity. What our former moderators are claiming is that if we all, liberal and conservative, just mix our voices together, we will be stronger for it. But is that not what we have been doing for the last 40 years, as we have shrunk by half our total membership, as our “voice” in society has become increasingly marginalized, as we crumble before the eyes of the world?
It is certainly true that vigorous debate and mutual forebearance is essential to the body of Christ. But only when applied appropriately. Vigorous debate is not needed over essentials, or over things so far outside the pale of a biblical worldview that they should be obvious to all who bear the name of Christ. Likewise, mutual forebearance is to be exercised when there are varieties of generally acceptable opinions in matters about which the Scriptures do not speak clearly, but not when it comes to matters of sin. Jesus and Paul are crystal clear on this.
Our leaders’ vision of the future is for more of the recent past– fruitless dialogue, internal dissent, fractured mission, alternate gospels. Not a pretty picture.
The last letter I want to consider briefly was written by the leaders of More Light Presbyterians. It is refreshingly candid in painting a clear picture of the future they envision. They are now gearing up for three goals in the PCUSA: 1) to push churches to call and ordain LGBT candidates (to normalize in practice what has been theoretically normalized in church law); to continue to conversation on “marriage equality” (the goal is not just to have converstations but ultimately to get the church to support same-sex marriage, as well as perhaps other varieties of unions); 3) to help the whole church understand that the positive recognition of LGBTs in official leadership is “…a practical application of the Gospel message that God in Christ creates and loves us all.”
These goals have far-reaching theological, ethical, social and ecumenical ramifications (some of which I’ve touched on in other blogs). Suffice it to say, this vision makes the PCUSA no longer Johnny Calvin’s church, by any stretch of the imagination. Such a future must not be, if we can prevent it, by God’s grace.
Jude 3 commands us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. These are timely words for us. “The faith” means there is particular content that we are to agree on; “once for all” means that the message has been given to us in toto — it is not up for grabs, or for modification; “delivered” means that we have received it on authority (from the Spirit and the apostolic communion He inspired), we did not make it up ourselves and so must be faithful in how we handle it; and “contend” — this imperative, from the compound verb epagonizomai, rests on the stem verb agonizo (to toil, struggle, strain; used particularly of athletic training and competition) with the added intensifying preposition epi as a prefix. To contend means to engage in the struggle, knowing that it will demand all our energies and efforts. Jude writes to the faithful in the church, exhorting them to contend for the faith not out in the marketplace of ideas (though that surely is part of our call) but where it is being challenged most strongly — among the believers themselves.
This seems to me to be our calling: not to give up, not to compromise, not to agree to a truce with the liberal agenda, but to reclaim the PCUSA, to declare that we are the heirs of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, that we stand firmly in the center of orthodoxy, and that we are no longer going to allow revisionists to wrap themselves in the mantle of the PCUSA. If you’re interested in learning more about this vision, let me know.