What Would Jesus Do with the PCUSA?

November 12, 2011

This of course is the harder question to answer: what would Jesus do with the PCUSA, and how would he advise congregations about their relationship with the denomination? To be honest, we have to start out by saying, “We really don’t know,” because there were no denominations in the first century. And what Jesus had in his mind’s eye for the church was a united body (John 17). We lost that distinction centuries ago, even before the Protestant Reformation.

In recent posts I have commented on a few cornerstone assumptions going into this discussion:

1. No one denomination can claim it is the one, true church. Though they have the longest history, not even the Catholics can legitimately make this claim today. Presbyterians do not make the claim; yet every once in awhile, our rhetoric drifts in the direction of equating the PCUSA with “the Church.” We must be careful about this. Is it possible that there is no one, true Church? If “church” is located in a human institution, then I’m afraid the answer must be no. But the Church, comprising all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the ages, does exist. Some forms that approximate it are remnants of a faded glory, and yet we have hope that what Jesus began in us will be completed in That Day when the Church is presented to Christ as the spotless Bride (Revelation 21:2).

2. No one church, including the PCUSA, then, can place an exclusive hold on its members as if leaving it would be leaving Christ. Congregations are thinking about leaving the denomination precisely because they think the church itself is departing from Christ’s ways. What are they to do? The everyday reality of folks in many presbyteries across the country (not all, thankfully) is that the PCUSA has sullied Christ’s reputation by calling evil good, by designing heavy-handed dismissal policies, by confusing the spiritual landscape, and by adopting secularized values.

3. The corporate expression of the church still has potential for honoring Christ, but it is not clear to me that Jesus is requiring every Christian to freeze in place as if any migration to another denomination would further divide the Body.  Denominations differ in doctrinal emphasis, leadership arrangement, polity, mission focus, and worship format. The fact that these differences exist does not necessarily imply disobedience to Christ’s prayer that we be one. Each congregation within the same denomination also has distinctives in demographic, spiritual gifts, ministry context, and programmatic expertise. Some churches split over disagreements, but others split in order to plant daughter churches. Because of these observations, I believe that the decision to move from one denomination to another can be a morally neutral one, or even a moral mandate for some, depending on their local situation.

4. Congregations seeking gracious dismissal from the PCUSA in order to affirm and live within orthodoxy did not start this conflict. The honest questions that were the catalyst for the Definitive Guidance of 1978 on sexuality did not start this conflict. This conflict started where all conflicts since the Garden of Eden do: with prideful self-assertion and disobedience to God’s Word. The corporate way this has taken hold in the PCUSA is through the coming out of More Light Churches and the unbiblical advocacy of organizations like That All May Freely Serve, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and Voices of Sophia.

So what would Jesus do with the PCUSA? Jesus would say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” “Come to me and be healed, not to sin again.” “Don’t take organizational pride in actions and teachings that are contrary to the Law I came to fulfill!” “Turn the other cheek; be generous in supporting congregations on their faith journey, even as they move on to the next village.” “Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain by calling me ‘Lord, Lord’ and then not do what I say.” “The one who seeks to be greatest must become the servant of all.” “Feed my sheep and beware the wolves that want to devour them.” “Don’t spend your effort keeping up appearances without authentic repentance at the heart level.”

Many, many more things Jesus would say. And we haven’t even started on Paul and Peter. Because Jesus is saying so much, our temporal path is not so clear but allows for a few godly options. The one your congregation chooses will depend on the spiritual strength of your members (the “weaker” they are in the faith, the more they need protection from the wolves, accomplished by leaving); the stronger your prophetic voice, the more you are needed in the PCUSA; the more property you own, the more you must hear the old Jewish proverb: “The poor have little choice but to respond to God’s call, ‘Depend on me.’ The rich with lots of assets are lured by the voice of their possessions, ‘Depend on us.’” May the Lord direct us all in the way that will honor him most, demonstrate radical obedience to Jesus Christ, and place our trust squarely upon him.


6 Responses to “What Would Jesus Do with the PCUSA?”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Thank you for saying the honest words that need to be said. We need to hear what Christ is saying to the churches and you are not afraid to say the words. We need to hear, Paul and Peter too- and how about Jude: )

  2. George McIlrath Says:

    In early ministry, I was fixed on organic/institutional union & worked to facilitate it. Then I began to see & experience unity beyond the congregation on local & regional efforts – – a. with fellowships who were authentic, but never likely to qualify for (or be interested in) membership in the PC(USA), & b. particularly in the vital renewal work of United Marriage Encounter. – – (The latter receiving some mostly lip service respect occassionally, but a full measure of disdain, disrespect/disdain & even obstruction from higher judicatory colleagues, who were clearly promoting alternate life styleqs &/or wanting to avoid being labeled as rigid or legalistic.)
    Unity in Christ can involve institutional activity, but I have decided it is much more a matter of heart & spirit. In fact, I have come to decide institutions can even be instruments to separate us from Christ — especially when we now see some of our national leaders declaring movements to apostasy as God given.

  3. L. Lee Says:

    Thank you again for your clear observation, gracious encouragement and for helping us to see and trust God alone. One day we will look back and see how God moved hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit to change the course of history for the “church” in this time. There is both dismay at the institutional direction toward imorality, and excitement at what God is doing as we draw near to Him. It is a hard place to be: waiting prayerfully for change we cannot see clearly now, feelings of both dissapointment and anticipation, moving toward total trust in God with some excitement for how God is able to bring His will to fruition. As we look to the Lord Jesus more, we are inclined to hold on to the temporal church less…..our Faith and trust is increasing (and that is something the new light supporters did not count on).

  4. Dave Moody Says:

    Rev. 2 & 3 are fodder for reflection as well. Doesn’t answer the question, “should we stay or should we go?”- but I think there might be something in these seven letters for us.

    my 2c

  5. Thank you for this post, Mary. We Presbyterians talk a lot about ‘connectionalism’ and ‘covenant’ in the church but neither of those are a human construct. The connection we have is a spiritual one, only possible as we are individually bonded to Christ, and the covenant between us as members of the Body of Christ results from our individual covenant with Him. Our obligation is always first to follow Christ. Any loyalty to one another, even within the church, is misplaced if it leads away from our Lord, Jesus. Keep on blogging, you are strengthening us all with your outstanding teaching and thinking!

  6. Jodie Says:

    I think he would say “there are more of my people in prison in the USA than there are people in the PC-USA. Are you serving them like I told you to?”

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