Claim to “Peace, Unity, and Purity” Is a Sham

November 2, 2011

Thinking about the PCUSA ordination vows, Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and Deacons say yes to question number seven: “Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?” It is interesting that church officers do not promise to achieve peace, unity, and purity; but by their actions they promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church. These three characteristics are the three legs of a stool, upon which church life rests, or so I have taught incoming elders during orientation for Session.

Furthering a cause can mean “making progress,” and then we have the challenge of observing or measuring that progress. Or, as is evidenced by the indecision and bifurcation taking place in the PCUSA today, it can mean kicking the can down the alley to procrastinate. Let’s be frank here: if “this” is progress toward peace, unity, and purity, then we Presbyterians are satisfied with entirely too little evidence of advancement. Let’s evaluate the situation:

PeaceA denomination at peace is one in which the members have no reason to fight one another. In such a state, they experience health, wellbeing, and contentment (I’m thinking shalom here, or aloha, a close equivalent). More to the root, relational peace is a byproduct of life in the Spirit (Gal. 5:21) and obedience to God’s will. But when sin becomes acceptable, and the organization is desensitized to the ways of the world (greed, dishonesty, shameful acts), another dynamic is in gear. Those who read the Scriptures at face value and try to follow God’s admonition feel harassed and hurt in their denominational affiliation with  others who call themselves “progressives.”  Jeremiah’s prophecy rings true here:

Jer. 6:13-15

15            For from the least to the greatest of them,
                        everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
            and from prophet to priest,
                        everyone deals falsely.
14             They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
                        saying, “Peace, peace,”
                        when there is no peace.
15             They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
                        yet they were not ashamed,
                        they did not know how to blush.

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,” that is, they have run roughshod over the sensibilities of folks just trying to stay within the moral parameters God has set. By insisting that unrepentant lifestyle LGBTs can be lifted up as positive role models, pastors, and church leaders, one segment of the church wounds another. By publicly obfuscating on doctrine about Jesus Christ, one disturbs the peace.  By openly advocating the over-interpretation of Scripture to call evil good, one declares war instead of peace. The truth is, there is no peace in the PCUSA. We have given up on the idea that peace is even possible, because we have been unwilling to receive it on God’s terms.

Purity. I need not belabor the point I have been making from Scripture and the Confessions for months now: by allowing within our leadership ranks the affirmation and the practice of homosexual acts, we have lost our purity (we’ve lost it in other areas, like abortion advocacy, too; but this is the most recent “official” change). God does not require of us perfection, knowing until That Day, we cannot achieve it; what God requires is perfect repentance. The relentless struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4), the daily turning and returning to God, is a calling we all have. Repentance furthers purity. Relenting does not. It has been said that a church cannot fulfill the requirements of all three—peace, unity, and purity—but can probably achieve two of the three. Though peace, too, is in question, purity has been lost already. And it appears that the church, through its judicatories, has given up even the appearance of furthering it. 

Unity. With peace unraveling, and purity compromised, a lot of effort is pouring into the third of the three legs. We might limp along as a denomination if we can stay unified, right? Can we not just hold things together with baling wire and duct tape? Perhaps officials around the country can force organizational unity, by asserting property laws as the functional equivalent, by insisting on “unity around Christ” when we differ in our understanding of who Jesus is and what he did, by dragging out dismissal processes to intimidate congregations, by liberals saying to evangelicals, “We need your voice at the table” and then not listening. To this I counter that true unity is impossible when two groups hold different beliefs, different vocabularies, different goals, and talk past each other across a table. Unity of the heart and mind is quite a different quality than institutional unity. Unity is more than everybody sitting at the same table talking their different languages to each other in a modern Babel. Why, it is almost heretical to say in some circles that our goal is agreement! Being of one mind! Conforming to a standard! What has happened to us, that we champion “diversity” (and a cheap imitation, at that) over “unity”? Bureaucratic machinations will not achieve unity, nor can they maintain godly diversity, without a spiritual conformity at the very center of life together.

Some claim that we have unity (present tense, emphatic) in Christ now. It can be no other way; this is an ontological reality. But I say that this claim is a sham. There is such a thing as dissention and disunity among believers, and we are experiencing it. Paul acknowledged it in Corinth (2 Cor. 13:11) and Philippi (Phil 2:1-5). The solution is to come to agreement by being of one mind with Christ and obeying his Word!

The efforts within our denomination to further peace, unity, and purity may never come to fulfillment, especially if we cannot agree on what obedience to God’s Word looks like. This is our fundamental problem. But if we can come to that agreement, then peace, unity, and purity fall into place and we can all breathe easier knowing we are living into our vows.

Tomorrow: More Sermon on the Mount, on Making Vows

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3 Responses to “Claim to “Peace, Unity, and Purity” Is a Sham”

  1. Ron Says:

    Mary, thanks for one of your strongest statements so far.

    I personally don’t share the tiny shread of optimism that you add in the last sentence. The nature of progressivism is a one-way street, always compromising and then moving forward to the next battle and next compromise. Slowly evolving until the original form is lost. The only way out of this is to separate. Separation can be part of God’s design. We have plenty of examples in the Old and New Testament.

    As for unity, the unity of diversity is a sham. When Paul discusses the need for unity he makes it clear that unity has a common “one” theme.

    Eph 4:1-6

    Unity in the Body of Christ

    4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ESV

  2. L. Lee Says:

    Mary – great post! The evidence of a lack of peace, unity and purity is evidence that the work of the Holy Spirit is being blocked.

    The thought occured to me that your writing is a record and witness to what is happening during our time. This is an important record as we will look back and see how God acts to bring His will in the midst of the chaos that a lack of unity, peace and purity (seeking holiness) ceates.
    I believe and pray that God will lift up leaders who provide that message which leads to people seeking God whole heartedly, seeking the Lordship of Christ in their lives, and seeking to be submissive to the Holy Spirit and God’s word. You are one of them – thanks!

  3. Whit Says:

    I thought of the same passage as Ron, but I read further.

    “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. . . . It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. [See Romans 1 for similar language.] They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. . . .”

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