January 1, 1998
Many of the topics and events covered in this issue of The Layman are built on a common foundation – the denial that God’s self-revelation in Scripture, and supremely in Jesus Christ, is authoritative for Christian faith and life. When God’s revelation is repeatedly denied, what results are rapid skids down the slopes of theological pluralism and moral relativism. At the foot of that unholy mountain lie autonomy and anarchy.
On page 1 is a story about reaction to Building Community Among Strangers. The fatal flaw in this study document is its theology, its assumption that human community can be built only if Christians renounce the first commandment (see p. 20) and the Great Commission. This mindset so pervades this report that the study cannot be salvaged by cosmetic surgery, such as eliminating one or two offensive illustrations.
The upcoming Charlotte Assembly should repudiate the theological presuppositions of Building Community Among Strangers and terminate the project before it results in “a policy statement for the 211th General Assembly (1999).” In so doing, Charlotte’s commissioners can do the denomination a great service by clarifying the Wichita Assembly’s assertion that “Theology matters.” They can specify which theology matters and why. Anything less would move the PCUSA toward theological pluralism, the belief that beliefs do not matter, the belief that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, animism, and atheism are all fully functional pathways to the presence of God.
Amendment A proposed replacing clear biblical prohibitions against specific behaviors with an individual’s subjective claim “But Jesus told me it’s all right.” The next way station on that particular slope is identified in the story on p. 17, which reports a Dutch minister now advocating tolerance for pedophiles.
The presbyteries have decisively rejected Amendment A (see p. 1). In response, the Charlotte Assembly could help the PCUSA escape the quagmire of continual debate on ordination standards. It could resist attempts to perpetuate this paralysis, whether in the form of proposed amendments or more palatably packaged means to the same end, such as suggestions to convene a special conference in search of common ground.
Then there is Milwaukee Presbytery’s Covenant of Dissent (see p. 11). Although the Synod of Lakes and Prairies ruled the covenant “null and void,” the presbytery has neither retracted nor repented of its action. In effect, the presbytery still insists that there is no higher law than its own inclinations, that it has the right to pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution it will obey. In Milwaukee’s attitude and actions, autonomy and anarchy are neatly wrapped into a single package.
Autonomy (literally self-law) and anarchy (the lack of widely accepted structures for ordering our common life) are far removed from the peace, purity, and unity that advocates of Building Community, Amendment A, and covenants of dissent claim to seek. They are the unavoidable results of rejecting what God has revealed about how we are to relate to him and to each other (see Judges 17-21 and Romans 1).
When faced with proposals that would move us down the slippery slopes of pluralism and relativism, Presbyterians must continue to stand firm. For “this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not be stood firm.’” (Isa. 7:7, 9)