Our Heritage is Shunned
Scottish Reformer John Knox once called Geneva, where John Calvin preached, taught and wrote, “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on the earth.”
Meeting in Birmingham June 15-22, the 2006 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) broke the contract with the rich Biblical heritage that Knox and Calvin left Presbyterians. What’s left of this fractured and contentious denomination, whose leaders pride themselves on self-righteous and erring pronouncements and policies, no longer deserves to be called Presbyterian or to claim Calvin as its founder.
It was a General Assembly that approved deception, contradiction and theological ignorance. The remnant, after the 2005 membership loss that was the largest in the history of the PCUSA, was told that it is now fashionable to say one thing and do another and no longer appropriate to “let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
The conviction that led the denomination to implant in its constitution a requirement that church officers abstain from adulterous and homosexual behavior – and to affirm that conviction twice in subsequent national referendums – was scuttled by the approval of an Authoritative Interpretation that allows sessions and presbyteries to treat the Seventh Commandment as nonessential.
The revelation by God of his name – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – was treated like dusty relic and required only in baptisms. Instead, bowing to the pressure of some feminists – who are loath to use male images, the assembly “received” a Trinity paper that lists what are now deemed to be appropriate alternatives. The list is so absurd that it prompted syndicated political cartoonist Doug Marlette to show a panel of Presbyterians irreverently spouting two alternatives “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb” and “Rock, Redeemer, Friend.” Marlette added his own suggestion for a metaphorical triad: “Rock, Paper and Scissors.” But worse than setting up the denomination for more ridicule, the exercise of using “metaphorical triads” to avoid what is clear and explicit is dangerously close to taking the name of the Triune God in vain. God will not be mocked.
For goofiness, it was hard to top the decision by the General Assembly to sanction the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, contrary to federal law. If you follow that action to its logical conclusion, some church groups would, with the blessing of the national governing body, purchase the illegal weed and distribute it among members who claimed they needed it for palliative purposes. Next? Ignoring research showing that marijuana use leads to even more dangerous drugs, including cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, will the General Assembly in 2008 add those to the PCUSA-approved list?
Some welcome shifts
It should be acknowledged that there were some shifts in the other direction. The commissioners did apologize for the divestment resolution approved by the 2004 General Assembly. But they did not order the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee to cease and desist from proceeding toward “phased selective divestment” of PCUSA holdings in multinational corporations that do business with Israel. Instead, the General Assembly hid that continued pursuit in the freshly minted language of MRTI’s “moral engagement” with those corporations.
Also, the commissioners approved a better statement on abortion by withdrawing the denomination’s sanction of aborting viable fetuses. Even so, they refused to call for an end to the denomination’s bankrolling and working with pro-abortion groups, such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, which is one of the most aggressive lobbies for late-term abortions.
So what’s next? Those who hold fast, at least in part, to the heritage of Geneva responded with mixed assessments. Some of the renewalists are ready to bolt, perhaps to form another Presbyterian denomination. Some say stay and fight, even though many of their warriors are quickly dropping off the rolls and others are surrendering because of a dread that their property will be seized and their pensions lost. Some find the very name Presbyterian offensive.
We hope and pray that they come together out of a shared love for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We hope and pray that they can agree that the signs of judgment on the PCUSA are as frightening as they were in the days of Joel: “What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; What the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.”
We fervently pray that the renewalists will see the devastation of the PCUSA as vividly as Joel did nearly three millennia ago and heed the prophet’s call:
“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and he relents from doing harm.
Calvin would have been the first to admit, contrary to Knox’s lavish praise, that Geneva was not perfect. In his last will and testament, he humbly acknowledged that, in his fallen nature, he longed too much for the approval of others. That same condition plagues the PCUSA as it slides deeper into cultural appeasement. But in his response to the temptation of ungodliness, Calvin did not plunder God’s truth.
May this be the time when the renewalists forge a common bond that will no longer allow complicity with the PCUSA’s course of a false peace, a false unity and a false purity.
This is the editorial of The Layman of the PCUSA July 2006. John Adams is the Editor.
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