Look to the Rock
As leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) navigate the shoals between Christ and culture, artful dodgers craft statements that sound Scriptural while giving license to those who have no use for the Word of the Lord. The resulting duplicity has often left those who love the Bible in a quandary: Are the words, policies, and programmes that we are witnessing apostasy, or might they be regarded only as troubling, but not definitive aberrations?
Postmodernism plays word games with finesse. By reducing truth to feeling, it twists the plain meaning of a text to such a degree that reason is jettisoned and emotion rules the day. Believers become confused, for the words of Scripture and 2,000 years of church tradition continue to be referenced, but with vastly different meanings. Scripture is employed to promote what Scripture denies.
Presbyterians who call themselves “moderate” and who are determined to preserve the denomination at all costs are particularly vulnerable to postmodern doublespeak. Grasping any flotsam indicating that the foundering Presbyterian Church (USA) has not sunk, they cling to shreds of hope, found in nuanced statements by the General Assembly.
One such statement is “The constitution has not changed.” On its face, that is technically true. No amendment was enacted that removed words from the constitution. But in fact, it is false, because the General Assembly gave each governing body license to set aside portions of the constitution with which it does not agree. This dejure/defacto disjunction, of course, did change the constitution, albeit without altering a single word.
Those who say the constitution was not changed – no matter how high-minded their motivation for making such an affirmation – are not telling the whole truth. As a consequence of what this assembly has done, Presbyterians can expect to see the ordination of persons who blatantly and openly engage in sex outside of marriage.
Wordsmiths are also palliating the General Assembly’s Trinity paper. Some argue that the assembly did not “adopt” the paper. It only “received” it. But sleight-of-hand technicalities give scant comfort to those who understand the significance of what happened in Birmingham. Having “received” the paper, General Assembly agencies are now free to promote it through curriculum and liturgical materials, conference platforms and a variety of implementation policies. The vote had hardly been tallied when a commissioner led the assembly in praying to “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb .”
We are reminded of what happened after the 1991 General Assembly declined to adopt a human sexuality report that justified adultery and homoerotic activity, but merely “received” the report as a resource to the church. Within months, that “recommended resource” was promoted by the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, whose Web site at the same time contained a link to an online lesbian dating service.
Anyone who says the assembly only “received” the Trinity paper – no matter how sincere their motivation for making such a statement appears – is not telling the whole truth. As a result of what this assembly has done, Presbyterians can expect to see litanies naming “Rock, Cornerstone and Temple” and similar abstract triads in lieu of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Revisionist liturgies that promote such substitutions ditch the divine communion of three distinct Persons within whom we are redeemed and through whom our souls are restored in relationship with the one Triune God.
Make no mistake about it: the 2006 General Assembly has rendered our constitution impotent, and it has turned its back on a foundational doctrine of Christian faith. Oily utterances, however artful, cannot cover up what this assembly has wrought on the covenant community of Reformed faith and practice.
So what must we do when the ecclesiastical body with which we are associated has departed from the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints?” We will do what faithful followers of Jesus Christ have done under similar circumstances in every age when their leaders have committed schism. We will cling to Scripture’s counsel: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the quarry from which you were dug.”
Carl Sandburg’s words prophetically describe the current state of the Presbyterian Church (USA): “When a nation goes down, or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along.”
Contrary to revisionists’ redefinition, Reformation is not novelty. Rather, it is new life that blossoms when the body of Christ re-anchors itself in that rock-solid confession that signalled the birth of the Church. “On this rock I will build my church,” said Jesus after Peter confessed the faith, “and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
A column in The Layman, by Parker T Williamson, editor emeritus and senior correspondent of The Layman.
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