Sep 23rd, 2006 · Categories: PCUSA · No Comments

PCUSA: Is it worthy of our love?

In a word, no.

From the run-up to the 217th GA until now, there have been countless expressions of “love” for the PCUSA and endless concerns for “our beloved PCUSA”. Many of these sentiments have been expressed by Task Force members, perhaps trying to justify their unity-at-all-costs recommendations. Many more have come from hand-wringing renewalists, perhaps trying to explain why they continue to cling to a failed “stay, fight, win” strategy.

But I can’t find much to recommend this sentimental regard for the PCUSA simply because it is the PCUSA. As Christians, we know whom we are called to love. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Jesus isn’t telling his disciples that they can’t love anyone but Jesus, only that they – and we – can’t put anyone ahead of or even on a par with Jesus. Not even our church or our denomination.

So what else does the Bible tell us we should love? Here is a short list – God the Father (Matthew 22:37), neighbors (Matthew 22:39), enemies (Matthew 5:44), other Christians (John 13:34), spouses, children, and parents (Colossians 3:18-21). These are all persons. Truth – emobodied by Christ – also shows up on the list, but I find no mention of earthly organizations, no matter how noble their intent may be – or once was.

The Bible doesn’t address denominations directly, but perhaps Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:10-15 are instructive:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into[b] the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

Are we so different when we say “I follow John Knox”; “I follow Martin Luther”; “I follow John Wesley”? There is only one body. There is not a Presbyterian body, a Lutheran body, a Methodist body, or any other body. Just one.

(Among the PUP report’s many errors was the implication that unity with the PCUSA somehow equates to unity with the body of Christ. I don’t know why they made such an absurd claim. I get the impression from the report, their selling of it prior to the GA, and their defense of it afterwards that they were simply blinded by their love for the denomination. Maybe it was just hubris.)

And what are faithful Christians to do when our denomination turns into John’s vision of the church at Ephsesus, when the denomination that once persevered and endured hardships for Jesus’ name forsakes its first love and falls from its once-great height? (Revelation 2:3-5)

What are we to do when the PUP report tells to be like the church at Laodicea – neither hot nor cold but lukewarm – for the sake of superficial unity; when our money, property, influence, and prestige (all dwindling but still great) have blinded us the to the fact that the PCUSA is “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? (Revelation 3:15-18) Should we love this human enterprise?

Again, in a word, no.

Perhaps those who believe that they can bring about renewal with their own efforts or who believe that God will yet do the job himself should persevere, but not for “love” of the PCUSA. To them I say, do it for love of the people who are being misled. Do it for love of the people who are being shown the wide way to destruction. Do it for the love of the one who is worthy of our love. These are persons worthy of love.

But here is the dilemma for the renewalists: Which is better? To try to protect the people from falling debris in case the building collapses? Or to get them to a safer place and just let the dilapidated old building go?

When I think about leaving and staying, my thoughts turn to a different metaphor. I imagine myself as a passenger on the Titanic. I imagine myself as part of a large family, scattered around in different cabins on different decks, some asleep, some running around looking after themselves, some paralyzed with fear.

I ask myself if this mighty ship has been irreparably damaged by its captain and crew. Is the damage so great that no human effort can save it? I imagine myself going below to examine the vast tear in the ship’s hull and asking God if he will somehow close the wound.

If I believe that the damage is beyond repair, that pride, arrogance, sin, and love for the world have doomed this ship to its deserved fate, what should I do? Proudly stay and go down with the ship? Tell my family to do the same? Tell them do decide for themselves?

Or should I try to round up as many as I can, tell them of the dangers, point to an available lifeboat, and implore them to board it with me? As an elder in the PCUSA, these are questions I cannot ignore. They are questions I cannot answer without discerning God’s will.

I can’t let the Titanic metaphor go without making this observation: It seems that to our captain, Clifton Kirkpatrick*, the anguish of the passengers is of no concern. He seems to want to hide the lifeboats and tell the passengers to either jump in the water or go down with the ship. All that matters is that they leave their possessions on board.

* Yes, I’ve demoted him from emperor to captain in successive postings.

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 23rd, 2006 at 10:34 am and is filed under PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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