Saturday, September 10, 2005

Presbyterian Outlook: The Three Rs: Revision, Reform, Reconcile

Minneapolis pastor Jin S. Kim has published a piece in Presbyterian Outlook called The Three Rs: Revision, Reform, Reconcile (free registration required). He leads off with an observation about the work of the recent task force:

“I am thankful for the work of the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force, for modeling a way of speaking the truth in love to one another and to the church, even if there is no clear “prescription”. Patience, forbearance, and faithful engagement are marks of the church that are easily overlooked in a results-oriented society….”

I agree most wholeheartedly. Presbyterian debate can get pretty adversarial, and ad hominem argumentation is all too common, especially in the areas addressed by the Task Force. If the Task Force could learn to share the Lord’s Table together, then what is stopping the rest of us?

He goes on to suggest a parallel between the Sadducees and Pharisees of the first century AD and the liberals and conservatives of the 21st century Presbyterian Church:

“…One group is concerned about society and justice (”life and work”) as faithful Christians should be, but has pressed for an affirmation of homosexual practice that appears to many evangelicals to be beyond the bounds of what Scripture teaches. In the words of R. R. Reno, their "bourgeois bohemian" sensibility calls for sexual freedom coupled with ruling class respectability. Like the Sadducees, those on the Left are seen as comfortable with ecclesial power but not too concerned with theological orthodoxy.

On the other hand, there is a group opposed to this move whose agenda revolves around personal morality, especially the kind that kindles the anxiety of privileged, white, middle class Christians. At their best, they build up “faith and order”. At their worst, these social conservatives are like the Pharisees who were theologically orthodox, but whom Jesus called hypocrites because they would not lift a finger for the poor and oppressed….”

Rev. Kim shares his concern about the fragmented nature of the Presbyterian Church and its lack of tolerance when it comes to dissent. Something I did not realize was that in Korea there are 300 distinct denominations that call themselves “Presbyterian.”

Kim observes that both the “hard right” and the “hard left” want control, and that schism is an inherent threat of such an attitude. His question is where to go if schism does come about. And this question is not only for the Korean-American ethnic group, but for all of us who are concerned about issues of social justice but are also orthodox in our faith. What many people fail to understand is that Christians with orthodox beliefs are found all along the political spectrum, as is concern with social issues.

Rev. Kim continues with some sharp words:

“…So on the issue of ordination standards, we share similar orthodox convictions with our white conservative brothers and sisters. But where are they after we stand and vote with them on the ordination amendments? In the face of massive poverty, war and disease around the globe, and the disintegration of the family, rampant consumerism and hedonism in American society, I can't help thinking that the elevation of sexuality as the dominant ecclesial debate is a uniquely Western fetish….”

The question for me is how we demonstrate by our actions that we are concerned not only with sharing the Good News, but also with the conditions under which much of the world is forced to live. We Presbyterian have “The Great Ends of the Church”:

“The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” – The Book of Order G-1.0200

Both ends of the Presbyterian spectrum need to pay close attention to these Great Ends of the Church – they are a prescription for a well-balanced Christian life of personal and corporate devotion to the Lord as well as a call to become engaged not only with the souls of others, but with their situations as well. Rev. Kim has done us all a service in reminding us of the gap between what we believe and the way we act.

To close, Micah's words are just as true today as they were over 2500 years ago:

Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. -- NIV

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