Life Is Messy in the Presbyterian House

August 29, 2011

“Life’s messy; clean it up!” is one of my all-time favorite product slogans. It is normal in anyone’s house to discover elements dirtied by use, misplaced through inattention, broken by accident, or jumbled in a frenzy to get something else done. Life is also messy because hurricanes swirl, earthquakes shake, fires roar. In these cases, Plan A becomes suddenly irrelevant, Plan B looks anemic, and Plan C is all one has left to fall back on. Life is messy, and cleaning it up is, well, complicated.

Cleaning up requires a careful look at what constitutes the mess. Dirtied things must be cleaned. Misplaced items must be found and put in their proper places. Broken pieces must be thrown away or glued back together if unique and important.  The jumbled must be sorted. One is tempted to throw everything in the trash and start over; but even this is complicated. A new house requires land, a plan, patience, and the coordination of many skilled laborers to build it.

The Fellowship of Presbyterians came together last week to acknowledge that more than a Bissell vacuum cleaner is needed to tidy things up in the Presbyterian House. The church has gotten very messy of late, trading its purity for dirty theology, losing its heritage through sloppy application of its historic principles of church order, breaking covenant with its forbears in the faith, and mixing itself up in worldly values. In the last hundred years, the slow breezes of new thought swirled and gained hurricane force to uproot some people from grounded, orthodox theology. To make a long story short, the result is the removal of G-6.0106b, the adoption of Amendment 10A, and the ruling of an impotent GAPJC unable to call false doctrine what it is at a critical moment in our church’s history. This is indeed a mess. Where does one start?

The Fellowship of Presbyterians is offering itself as an umbrella organization to begin the task of sorting out the rubble, keeping what is good, tossing what is broken, and rebuilding a new house to meet twenty-first century earthquake standards. Not all Presbyterians feel the need to move into a new house, because they have not suffered any damage so far or because they believe the old can be rebuilt. Some feel that moving out would create its own damage. Others believe they’ve survived the Big One intact and there is no need to find safe haven elsewhere.  The Fellowship has graciously offered to bring in reinforcements for those who would like to stay in place, but most of its energy is going to be spent on providing a way out for those who want to escape the unstable, cracked house known as the PCUSA.

The “New Reformed Body” is more than a Red Cross shelter; it is a new house. No blueprints were unveiled at the Gathering of Presbyterians, but it sounds like there will be some important features to this new dwelling: a robust foundation of essential tenets of Reformed faith, a relational rather than regulatory style of covenant, a missional mindset yet to be defined by this group (“missional” being an easily co-opted term), and a global sensitivity. To this list I hope also that the Fellowship will be emboldened to raise the status of ordained women to a level beyond “The Help” to “Full Partners” at all levels of leadership. (Thank you, Dr. Mouw, for a most encouraging exhortation in this direction!) This is, after all, one big mess and the Fellowship of Presbyterians needs all The Help it can get to clean it up.

Tomorrow: More reflections on the options.


11 Responses to “Life Is Messy in the Presbyterian House”

  1. William L. Goff Says:

    I’m trying to understand the precise nature of your disaffection with the Presbyterian Church. You offer many sweeping generalizations: dirty theology, sloppy application of historic principles of church order, breaking covenant with its forbears in the faith, mixing itself up in worldly values. The focus of your disagreement with the Presbyterian Church seems to be “the removal of G-6.0106b, the adoption of Amendment 10A, and the ruling of an impotent GAPJC unable to call false doctrine what it is…” Perhaps I’m your only reader who does not understand all these references.

    My guess is that you and “The New Reformed Body” disagree with the decision of the Presbyterian Church to ordain homosexuals, but maybe I’m missing something.

    I am an honorably retired Presbyterian minister. I feel comfortable being identified as an Evangelical. Like former General Assembly Moderator Dr. Jack Rogers, I have come to believe that excluding homosexual believers from full inclusion in the life of the church is an arrogant sin. I believe that the love of God expressed in our Lord Jesus Christ is inclusive and that the effort to weed out those who believe in the inclusion of homosexuals (lesbians, et. al.) is culture bound and unloving.

    I urge you to dispense with elaborate analogies (like climbing Half Dome) and express yourself more clearly.

    • William, You’re not the only one. Mary Koepke Fields

      • revmary Says:

        Mary, I do not understand the meaning of your comment here. To which of Dr. Goff’s comments are you referring, and specifically what is he “not the only one” of? Thanks for the clarification.

    • revmary Says:

      Based on your earlier comments, Bill, I think you are feigning ignorance here. I have been perfectly clear about where I stand and you have responded to my views previously. In this current comment you are baiting me, and I am not interested.
      My use of analogies comes out of my current experience, a form of self-expression. Be careful, or tomorrow I will write a post that references Vertigo.

      • William L. Goff Says:

        Dear Rev. Mary,
        In our ongoing discussion, I will hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt. I do understand that you are opposed to the ordination of homosexuals and that you have a generally negative view of the current direction of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). I refered to my genuine ignorance of G-6.0106b and Amendment 10A and GAPJC rulings.
        Can you not see that the tone of your latest entry and your reply to me is offensive and does not advance your views? I am neither pretending ignorance or baiting you. I think your hostility toward my comments is misplaced.
        I regard you as an articulate Christian who is eager to be obedient to Jesus Christ, teach his Word, and help others do the same. Although I do not agree with your interpretation of the Bible concerning homosexuals, I don’t regard your expressions of belief to be dirty theology, unorthodox or mixed up with worldly values. I give you the benefit of the doubt that you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I wish you would give me the benefit of the doubt as well.
        I hope you will also believe me that I have climbed the cables to the top of Half Dome many times – the last time when I was 62 years old. Apparently I used the right kind of gloves. I can express myself with analogies too, but for the sake of clarity I always endeavor to eschew obfuscation. – Bill Goff

  2. Amen. Especially that women part . . Have you seen the movie The Help? We may need to be patient, Mary. Just saying.

  3. Jake Horner Says:

    One thing about building houses: it takes time, and you have to do things in an orderly manner (OK that was two). I’ve built a few houses and it takes a lot of careful planning, concern for the time-frame and seasonal change, and respect for your materials and tools. But the first thing you have to do is lay a good foundation. If your foundation isn’t straight, square, and level, you are going to be fighting it throughout the rest of the building process, and it will require a bunch of mickey-mouse adjustments to compensate for the poor foundation.

    I may be wrong, but the surest foundation for the FOP will be a clear theological statement.

    Regarding the Big One: if the PCUSA thinks it has survived the Big One it is sadly mistaken I’m afraid. Yet to come are mandatory inclusion and same-sex marriage. I think we have merely experienced the beginning of birth pangs.

    In Christ,

    Jake H.

  4. Steve Niccolls Says:

    I understand your doubt that we have experienced “The Big One”. However, I think the GAJPC decision is the big one. The issues you have mentioned are only the aftershocks of the Big One hitting.
    As a life long Presbyterian and current M Div student, I am sadden by the thought that the PC(USA) has lost its moral compass. I hope it can be found again, but the vote on 10 A and the recent judicial decisions show that it may be forever lost.

    • Jake Horner Says:


      Thanks for the reply. I’m an MDiv student too (at PTS). I was referring to this statement of Mary’s — “To make a long story short, the result is the removal of G-6.0106b, the adoption of Amendment 10A, and the ruling of an impotent GAPJC unable to call false doctrine what it is at a critical moment in our church’s history.” I think they go hand in hand, but that is really beside the point. I was trying to make two points 1) make sure to build a firm foundation. 2) the angst caused by 10-A passage is probably a drop in the bucket compared to the reaction I anticipate to mandatory inclusiveness being enforced, and Pastors performing same-sex “marriage” services.


  5. William L. Goff Says:

    In my earlier reply today I confessed that I did not know what Amendment 10A was. Since I retired many years ago I have attended very few (if any) Presbytery meetings and have not followed the disputes about how to treat homosexuals. From what Rev. Naegeli and others have written about the terrible moral and theological state of the Presbyterian Church, I thought that Amendment 10A must be a wishy-washy, liberal, unorthodox, misguided statement that ignored the Bible and shunned the historic confessions of the church. Today I looked up Amendment 10A on the Internet. Here is what it says:
    “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”
    I can understand that those who think homosexuality is a sin do not like the fact that Amendment 10A does not forbid the ordination of homosexual (aka LGBT) believers. What I do not understand is the invective hurled against the majority in the Presbyterian Church who endorsed Amendment 10A. – Bill Goff

  6. Joe Small Says:

    Thanks, Mary. I’m glad to see that you are healthy and wise, if not wealthy.

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