“Peace, Unity, and Purity” and Presbyterian Reality

May 21, 2012

In this second post of a three-part series, I am exploring the dynamics of peace, unity, and purity and how, through church history, they have been achieved through ministry dynamics that included separation. Considerable pressure is exerted from time to time in our present context to maintain institutional “unity” (though our Present Troubles indicate that this is a condition in name only in the PCUSA). Usually, the Scripture passage referred to most often is John 17, Christ’s “high priestly prayer” in which he asks his Father “that they may be one . . .  completely one” (17:20-23). But I would submit that there are lots of good reasons why this overarching oneness might best be expressed in ministries that are separated one from another. We have our first biblical example in the allocation of land to Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13:8-12) because their flocks were so great that one piece of land could not support them both. Jacob and Esau, the twins of Isaac and Rebekah, were also separately assigned by God to become the fathers of Israel and Edom respectively (Genesis 36:6-8).  We even have the example of Paul and Barnabas branching out after “a sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36-41). Church history later demonstrates that even in the midst of calamity and persecution, the dispersal of God’s people (diaspora) can be seen in the end as a great blessing and necessary step for the spreading of the gospel. In early Christianity, it was by this means that Jesus’ charge was carried out: “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The scattering of the saints occurred under duress, but history demonstrates that being kicked out of the Jerusalem nest was absolutely necessary for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God around the world.

As a denomination, the question arises whether we can promote peace, unity, and purity (PUP) of the church only by staying together under the banner “PCUSA.”  But I submit that all three—peace, unity, and purity—are not simultaneously achievable in the current environment. I have heard many say that we are doing well if we can achieve two out of the three, and purity is the one that has to go in order for us to retain peace and unity. But it is precisely the willingness to jettison purity that afflicts many members with tortured consciences, disturbing our peace and unity. If significant constituencies within the PCUSA persist in an unwillingness to obey God’s Word, based on differing opinions of what God’s Word actually teaches us to do (or not do), then our choices are these: get our act together and agree on one interpretation we will all follow, or separate our flocks and feed our sheep in different grazing areas.

Peace is found if we follow the advice of our forbears. We have three choices in the face of a difficult decision by the Body: we can actively concur, passively submit, or peaceably withdraw. Peaceably withdrawing is a legitimate option according to our polity. In the issue of sexuality, the biblical and confessional position of centuries (fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness) was the church’s agreed standard. Those who were unwilling to concur with it or submit to it have always had the option of peaceable withdrawal from our fellowship, without prejudice or condemnation (from our Historical Principles of Church Order (Book of Order, F-3.01). But some of them unfortunately did not peaceably withdraw and have since asserted themselves by promoting a biblically unjustifiable lifestyle. Let us be clear, from a long-range historical perspective, it is those who could not, as a matter of conscience, go along with the church’s fidelity/chastity standard who are the disturbers of the peace. We lost our peace a long time ago, and our failure to effect discipline since has only contributed to the situation in which we now find ourselves.

So, we can do this peaceably, or we can do this angrily and punitively. But as things stand, the constituent parts of the PCUSA have demonstrated that they cannot function under the same authority. When an entire presbytery can thumb its nose at the GAPJC without any official response (yet) from anyone assigned to discipline, it is not hard to conclude that we have a reality that must be faced and dealt with honestly.

My next post will address the implications of this diagnosis for the Presbyterian church.

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2 Responses to ““Peace, Unity, and Purity” and Presbyterian Reality”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary, I think the silence on this posting has something to do with people agreeing with you: )

  2. Truth Tolife Says:

    While I agree with Mary that it was those bringing a revised reading of Scriptural standards who rightfully should have withdrawn, perhaps now the focus should be nit on who keaves, but on hiw to seoarate.

    Ironically, it appears the balance between peace, unity, and purity can be achieved by separation.

    Evangelicals for years suggested Progressives should peaceably withdraw. Now, Evengelicals are asking to be graciously released, acknowledging (tacitly) that Progressives have won the polity war. This we know for sure: in our current configuration we cannot get along; there will be no peace until the issue of purity is worked out. And on that issue the question that divides is binary; no compromise is possible without forcing one side to yield on principle. That is to say, to violate their purity. But in separating, each side can maintain it’s purity (at least in the area of sexual purity) and both can focus on spreading the Gospel.

    So let’s be unified in separation, so that purity may be preserved and peace shall prevail!

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