Saturday, October 13, 2007

Presbyterians Splintering Over Scripture -

Presbyterians Splintering Over Scripture -
"The Episcopal Church isn't the only mainline Protestant group shaken by open conflict between theological liberals and conservatives.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is facing similar trials, with traditionalist congregations planning to bolt and a conservative denomination preparing to take them in.

About 30 of the almost 11,000 Presbyterian congregations have voted to leave the national church since the denomination's national assembly session in 2006, according to the Layman, a conservative Presbyterian publication that has been tracking the breakaways. Denominational leaders say they could lose an additional 20 congregations as a result of the latest rupture."
Well, so far, so good, in terms of accuracy. But in my opinion there are some mis-characterizations of just what the 217th General Assembly did. For example:
"...But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage. ..."
Not quite. The language may have been parsed by some to allow governing bodies to accept "scruples" about any belief, but I sincerely doubt the commissioners to the 217th General Assembly really believed they were permitting scruples over any part of the Book of Order or the Directory for Worship where the word "shall" is employed. Certainly the full report of the Task Force made it clear that they were not promoting a free-for-all when it came to "essentials". In addition, the actions of the 217th GA not only provided for review of the process, but added review of the outcome -- something that seems to be new.

The controversy over the language of the Trinity is also misrepresented. The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing unleashed a storm of controversy when the final report came out. Here is the article's take on this:
"..Delegates at the national assembly also voted to let church officials propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the divine Trinity -- 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' Among the possibilities: 'Mother, Child and Womb' or 'Rock, Redeemer, Friend.'..."
This particular proposal was amended significantly with the conclusion that the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" are the Trinity, and those words provide the standard by which we understand and experience God. In addition, the standard way of referring to the Trinity is the only way to be employed in the Sacrament of Baptism. You can read the details of the of the GA217 actions regarding The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing on Les, the GA business tracking web site. One issue with the alternate language that is highlighted on Les is the fact that such characterizations as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" or "Rock, Redeemer, and Friend" describe aspects of God that are not confined to any one of the Biblically-defined persons of the Trinity.

The rest of the article is fairly balanced and describes the decline in membership that the PC(USA) has experienced, and I agree with the assessment of some of the people interviewed that the center is holding together. I am not convinced that the number of congregations leaving will be about 50. I suspect that it will be significantly more.

I also suspect, from what I have been reading from both ends of the Presbyterian spectrum that the current exodus will involve more of the conservative end -- a group that tends to be more generous with their giving and more involved in the mission of the Church.

We really can't afford to lose such people.

1 comment:

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I will continue to say that a Church that holds its Scriptures as nothing more than a "guide" will always fail.