I graduated from Seminary 40 years ago, well equipped to distinguish between Presbyterians and Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals and Episcopalians… Not that it was ever necessary to do so, for the prevailing mood at the time (certainly among Presbyterians) was that the very existence of all these denominations amounted to something of a scandal. If we were really serious about being Christian, there would be just a single church, all working together in the cause of Jesus Christ. COCU (Consultation on Church Union) was a great hope in my seminary days. Had I ever been asked why a person should be a Presbyterian rather than a Methodist (which never did happen), my response would have been that it makes no real difference.
We were just emerging from the Sixties back then, where institutions of all kinds were objects of great scorn, and the battle cry was “make love, not war.” I look back at that time and see the theme: nothing is important enough to fight over. In the succeeding years that seems to have developed into the notion that any claim that one idea is “right” and another is “wrong” is a serious breach of social decorum. The operating norm became everyone’s truth is true.
By the time I had entered seminary, in 1969, the United Presbyterian Church had already adopted the Book of Confessions, some effects of which were to dilute the notion that theological distinctions are important, and to reformulate our theological standards into the “essentials of the Reformed Tradition.” Today there is an overture (032) to the GA that would require a definition of the “essentials of the Reformed Tradition,” but it died for the lack of a concurrence. There is another (001), which needs no concurrence, that would require ordinands to pledge obedience to Scripture and the Confessions rather than being guided by them, but it would appear there is little chance it will pass.
We seem to be unwilling to say to the world that there is something distinctive about being Presbyterian. We seem to be unwilling to stand up and say that here is something different, something unique, a better way.
The really critical issue for this day, though, goes to another level entirely.