Not So Ecumenical After All

Our new Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order proclaims this:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at all levels seeks to manifest more visibly the unity of the body of Christ and will be open to opportunities for conversation, cooperation, and action with other ecclesiastical groups.  It will seek to initiate, maintain, and strengthen relations with other Reformed and Christian entities. (G-5.0101)

In another place, the Book of Order says that,

Division into different denominations obscures but does not destroy unity in Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), affirming its historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, is committed to the reduction of that obscurity, and is willing to seek and to deepen communion with all other churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. (F-1.0302a)

I would propose that we officially delete those statements as obsolete, because there is little evidence to prove that they are still relevant.

More than three and a half years ago, I warned our denomination’s decision makers that by pursuing our own, narrow denominational agenda, we were jeopardizing, not only our internal cohesion, but our relationship with the larger, universal, big-C Church.  Specifically, I said,

I am convinced that our denomination (let alone the rest of Christendom) is not nearly ready for such radical changes regarding sexuality and biblical application.  If we persist in our…mentality, we will obliterate the fragile trust that holds our denomination together and marginalize ourselves from the larger body of Christ.

Unfortunately, I was right.  Ever since our denomination decided to choose a different path from the rest of the Church this summer (although the drift started decades ago), other Christians are recognizing our departure.  Our partners are severing ties with us (and spare me the paternalism that demeans our African and Mexican neighbors as being backward and pre-modern), and those who weren’t our partners before, will likely never become our partners.  In short, we have cut ourselves off from the family tree that is the catholic Church and have thrown ecumenical efforts under the bus of sexual depravity.

So let’s make our words line up with our actions and get rid of the ecumenical talk already.


12 thoughts on “Not So Ecumenical After All

  1. …in the case of members and churches in the PCUSA, for those of like mind, when is it time to let your actions line up with your words? It is not as if there is a shortage of conservative presbyterian denominations where one can land…

  2. Imagine making an argument, in the 1950s, that we can’t accept African Americans into our churches because other churches would cut ties with us if we did.

    It may not be the perfect parallel because many Christians honestly interpret scripture to tell us not to endorse homosexual behavior today. But those that believe the Biblical message of grace and justice is stronger than the limited specific prohibitions against homosexual behavior in ancient culture, should make that stand on its merit and not on whether other Christians will be friendly to us or not.

    The thing to remember is that there are Christians who honestly believe this is what God wants us to do (be more accepting of homosexuals and include them in the life of the church). They are not taking this stand to simply accommodate with culture as it is commonly argued. If you view their take on Scripture and God’s call to us as wrong, urge them the other direction on those same grounds (what God wants us to do). Convince them that those ancient calls in the Bible against homosexual activity are very much applicable today.

    But arguing for them to abandon their position simply because other parts of the church do not see it the way they do is very much akin to arguing that Christians should not have been involved in the civil rights movement because other Christians condemned their actions.

    The one who is having a field day with this is the devil. How much he must love it when Christians can divide and sub-divide with all sides claiming the moral high ground.

    There is only one Church. Our error is forever dividing ourselves from one another.

    • Tom,

      I’m not advocating that ecumenism should be our *sole*–or even our *primary*–consideration for our decision-making. Protestants, by definition, have claimed sola scriptura for the authority of making decisions in the church, while allowing room for reason and tradition. But if we say, as a denomination, we are going to build bridges that promote the unity of the universal church, then we should either stick with that or jettison it altogether. That was the point of my post. If it comes down to a coin toss between should we or shouldn’t we, we should consult the opinions of the larger Church, of which we are a part. (And by the way, our mission partners and groups inside and outside the denomination warned that the change of ordination standards was one step too far.)

      And no matter how much revisionists want race and sexual orientation to be a tight analogy, it is very much a flawed analogy. As Rob Gagnon has pointed out (exhaustively), if we want to find a scriptural analogue to same-sex behavior, bestiality and incest are closer (not to mention child sacrifice!). The inclusion of all races, peoples, tongues, and nations into one messianic kingdom is a slam-dunk, NT and OT. So if there are Christians who believe same-sex behavior is a justice issue, they stand alone, truly, from the vast majority of the New Testament, catholic Church.

      I do, however, agree with you about Satan’s victory in all this. He delights in dividing and alienating Christians from each other. And it looks like he’s doing a pretty good job these days. He also delights in convincing Christians that important doctrines are trivial and that we should simply agree to disagree.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. If one wants to argue along the lines of visible unity, get it over with and swim the tiber…otherwise, align yourself with those of like mind – for the division has already occurred (both in your own mind and in those who were of like mind who have come and gone before)

  4. Its amazing how when pointing out the reality of the situation the PC(USA) is in, the messenger is reviled and told to leave. At least he’s in good company .. most of the Old Testament prophets were treated the same way.

  5. Agreed, with Machen being one such example

    Not reviling the messenger at all, I feel for him, the best message one could send to the PCUSA would be by voting with their feet and leaving the denomination

  6. I find it fascinating that the topic that galvanizes so many is the sexual behavior of seven percent, or less, of the church population. Might not our focusing on the sexual behavior of the rest of us be more helpful? Or do we need to define ourselves as Christians on how we make a stand on how we interact, affirm, or reject the other seven percent?

    • Tom,

      I totally agree. The GLBT caucus in the denomination that has kept their pet issue on the front burner for so long should repent of wasting so much of our resources. Can’t we focus on a positive witness and positive affirmations of God’s work in Jesus Christ? Apparently not.

  7. Jeremy: A) I do not think hardly anyone in the PC(USA) would affirm that they are denying the creedal heritage of the PC(USA). I have worshipped in Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations all over the nation due to my military service. I have been in ones left, right, and center. And nary a one did not have our creeds or Reformed worship as decried in our Directory for Worship. This issue is the way people want to apply the creeds (as laws or as guidances).

    The issue at hand is whether we can work together rather than continue to fracture. We continue to dilute our witness all claiming the moral high ground.

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