Wednesday, May 28, 2014

State of the PC(USA)

Figure 1: The Presbyterian Family and the History of Divisions
The State of the PC(USA) is a detailed report by Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley written in June 2013. A personal story of his experience as a Presbyterian the report marks the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a PC(USA) pastor. A compelling reading of 15 pages from a thoughtful and authentic pastor.

Two of his points for the purposes of our discussion - why leaving the denomination is not a great idea - hit me right away from his first page:

1) Since he was a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary the Presbytery of Los Angeles required him to take an additional year at a Presbytery Seminary so he would "understand Reformed theology and polity and would be faithful leaders and not promoters of schism."

2) What the Presbytery did not realize was that Fuller had become a seminary committed to the integrity of all faithful expressions of the Christian faith... At Fuller we were encouraged to enter the mainline denominations with the purpose of loving and serving them, even though they were not perfect. 

Yes, the PC(USA) is not perfect but this, in my humble opinion is not a good reason for breaking ordination vows and covenantal relationships. The history of Presbyterianism shows it has been one of schisms and reunions (see Figure 1). What a waste of resources! Do the pastors leading congregations out of PC(USA) truly understand the costs and are they educating their flock about it? Theological diversity is a gift and we must learn to live with the tension and dissension diversity inevitably brings. To say that the PC(USA) does not affirm the lordship or deity of Jesus is a gross misrepresentation. Even a quick look at the Ordination vows for pastor, elder, deacon will show otherwise. We must not fight among ourselves like this; our witness to the world will only have impact when we can be united. In John 17: 20-23 Jesus prayed for our unity:
I’m praying not only for them 
But also for those who will believe in me 
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
(The Message)

Here's what a retired pastor friend also trained as a marriage and family therapist wrote me about theological diversity in the denomination: "like-mindedness is utopian and perfectionistic, and as the 218th GA moderator put it, 'like minds do not a growing faith make.'... Like any divorce, which is what this is, the waves of repercussion will go on and last for years to come...Theologically and Biblically [sic], unity in Christ, not agreement over ordination vows should be our standard."

One of the problems is that in the 30 year fight over the "homosexual" issue, few people who now call a PC(USA) church their faith home have deep knowledge of Presbyterian theology or polity. Instead, as Jerry notes, "We long to realize a new utopia where all is made right... " We trust our pastors and our churches as the bastion of truth and authority. We deify them not realizing the errors and dangers of this. (Jesus himself warned us that His sheep know his voice - "a bruised reed he will not break" and we must be vigilant to recognize this.) Some of the things I really like about our Presbyterian heritage are 1) freedom of conscience, 2) the commitment to education - our individual ability and willingness to grapple with Scripture, not just listen to what others say or study the text intellectually but actually let God's Word transform our hearts, 3) and the polity that lets us work together amid conflict in decency and order. Taken together, all this means a willingness to seek God's will and wait patiently, hear diverse opinions, studying the passages which cause us conflict together, confessing prejudices, seeking and receiving forgiveness, understanding the true meaning of reformed, always reforming. If we truly practiced all this, unity, will emerge and our witness to Jesus Christ and discipleship be fully Spirit-led and authentic.

Report on the Presbyterian Church (USA): My Personal Story As A Presbyterian. June 2013. URL.

Figure 1 above is from Jerry's report and original image is from a book: Longfield, Bradley.  Presbyterians and American Culture: A History. Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster, John Knox Press, 2013. Appendix.

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