Friday, May 13, 2011

Confessions of Orthodoxy

Being a pastor in a denomination that continues to drift further from my own theological convictions is no easy thing. On Tuesday a big shift within our denominational polity removed language that defined a sexual ethic for church leaders that was consistent with historic biblical orthodoxy and replaced it with an ambiguous statement that results in a conscience driven theology born from cultural conventions. People have reduced this shift from orthodoxy toward accommodation to being about "gay ordination." That's regrettable. But understandable.

Many within the denomination that are closer to my own theological convictions say that "we" should leave the PC(USA). Many within the denomination that are closer to my theological convictions say that "we" should stay in the PC(USA). I have no clue what to do. I just want to do what's right. But determining the right way in a sea of grey is no easy thing. Especially when no one can admit that it's grey.

To leave might mean being a part of something more pure- at least thats the way some speak of other denominational landscapes. By "pure" you mean trading our set of issues for theirs right? Some of the "leave" crowd make the pragmatic argument that they just don't want to fight about this anymore. OK. But we're still Reformed. We might as well have a pugilistic theological gene born from the loins of John Calvin. Wherever we go we fight. So give me a break on that one. Some of the "leave" crowd want to start something new altogether. A lot of them are jerks. If I start something new it won't be with you. See. I'm a jerk too. It'll never work. One good friend wants me to join the Eastern Orthodox church. No. For 7 good reasons and a couple of bad ones. A few others think that I should go independent and start my own thing by myself and just rock it solo. That actually fits my personality which, as you know, would be a problem.

The "stay" crowd that identifies with my theological convictions concerns me a bit too. Many of the stay people are within a handful of years from retirement and I know are thinking, at least in part, with their pension. I just wish some of those folks would bone up and admit it. I'm not even saying that one's pension is a bad reason for staying. I just wish you could admit it. It would help me listen to you. Some "stayers" talk about reform or restructure from within. So changing the structure within would help you sleep better at night? "OK. Let's not get divorced but you live on your side of the house and I'll live on mine. Jerk." Yeah, let me know how that works out for you. Some argue that we should stay because it doesn't really matter that much. Part of me admires their cool exterior. Part of me thinks they have gotten lazy, turned yella, and need to get out of the game because their fire went out.

Right now the song lyric "should I stay or should I go nowwwww? If I stay there will be troublllle... If I go there will be doublllle..." is going through my mind.

One of the difficult things is that I know faithful, godly people that represent each view above. None of them speaks for me. To many, their particular solution seems so simple. That alone let's me know they haven't walked a mile in my shoes.

As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. I know what that looks like today. I just don't know what that looks like tomorrow.

Kyrie Eleison



  1. My prayers for you as you stand in the gap, holding firm to Christ and striving to lead people in His truth.

  2. i appreciate your honest post.

    i was asked the other day if I, a pastor in the pca, would leave if the same thing happened to us.

    i replied, "It depends."

    as pastors we have a flock that we responsible for. this reaches farther than denominational lines. but this raises the question doesn't it..."where do you lead the flock?" out of the pcusa?

    again, "it depends."

    we trust that the Lord will guide those who believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Heb 11).

    i'm praying for you brother.

  3. Pastor Scott: Your comment is right on target: "I just want to do what's right. But determining the right way in a sea of grey is no easy thing." I have found it helpful to focus on two questions: What do I commit myself to do as a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ? Can I continue to do those things enthusiastically and wholeheartedly and joyfully in the PCUSA? Once you have a good sense of what things the first entails, and regarding those things can answer the second with a solid "yes," then you should stay.

    For me, though, I found myself equivocating more and more with the second question. I could joyfully live as a disciple in the PCUSA as long as I looked the other way about things, rationalized that supporting the PCUSA didn't mean I personally was supporting this or that morally troubling cause. But I increasingly wondered if my efforts to help my Presbyterian congregation grow weren't earning a judgement from Jesus: "You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Was building the PCUSA really building the kingdom of Jesus Christ?

    It's not that where I am now is perfect -- no place on earth is. No place is free from error and struggle. But not all errors and struggles are of the same kind. At the end of the day, we all need to be able to say we've done our part: helping his kingdom come, helping his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Whatever you decide about Christ's leading, may you find that place where you can serve with fullness of joy and know the blessing "well done good and faithful servant."

  4. Scott, I really resonated with your post, and I love bacon.

    Here's one way I tried to describe my calling in the PCUSA after I served as a GA commissioner a few years ago.

    Robert Austell
    Charlotte, NC