How many times have we, or someone in our hearing, dug in our heels at some point in a vigorous discussion and said “Here I stand!” I think it is safe to say that most of us have felt at one time or another that we could not budge from our position and have been tempted to use Martin Luther’s words.
It seems to me that, with the various debates that confront the Presbyterian Church, the “Here I Stand!” moments are a bit more numerous than they really need to be. When I feel the words “Here I Stand” bubbling to the surface I try to take a step back and ask myself “Is this really worth breaking fellowship over?” Or is it possible for me to accept that an honest difference of opinion exists, and move on? What should the threshold be for digging in and risking schism?
Remember that Martin Luther not only risked schism, but his very life with his words. But what was it that impelled Luther? Let’s look at Luther’s words in a wider context:
“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
“Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
It is a matter of scholarly debate as to whether Luther, in ending his speech before the Diet of Worms, actually spoke the final line, but “Here I Stand” is so inextricably tied to Luther that we might as well accept it.
Luther’s point was one that was taken to heart by the Reformers, and we see it enshrined in our Confessions and Book of Order: “God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith and worship”.
We Presbyterians have three choices when dealing with issues that have been decided by the Church at its various levels: (1) to actively concur; (2) to passively submit; or (3) to peaceably withdraw. (The Book of Order, footnote to G-6.0108b)
Most issues which divide us can be dealt with using the first or second option. Option 3 (the “nuclear option”) should only be used for the rare instance where one’s understanding of Scripture leads to a deep and uncompromising view that the PC(USA) is terribly wrong and that he or she cannot stay within the fold of the Presbyterian Church. Passive submission does not require that debate cease. In fact, ongoing debate coupled with scriptural study resulted ultimately in the ordination of women in the Presbyterian Church. This reform might not have taken place had people “peaceably withdrawn.”