Diversity that shuns discernment
The Presbyterian Layman July/August 2000 Volume 33, Number 4, August 4, 2000
One of the hallmarks of the people of God has been that at testy times in their life together, especially when their core beliefs were questioned or attacked, they met and hammered out declarations of what was necessary for their peace, purity and unity.
How different it was during the 212th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Instead of addressing the truth of varying ideas about the atonement of Christ, the authority and interpretation of Scripture and other matters, this year’s commissioners adopted a vacuous statement contending that “differences in fact have the potential to make our unity in Christ even stronger.” They say, in effect, that the denomination need not waste time on theological differences.
That statement, a low point in the deliberations of the General Assembly, was in response to an overture from the Beaver-Butler Presbytery that was noteworthy for its honesty. The overture identified eight theological issues over which there remains an “irreconcilable impasse.”
The Bible and our Reformed tradition recognize that some differences (diversity) are inherent in the body of Christ. There are differences in spiritual gifts, status, gender, religious background, service to the Church, even personality. But the General Assembly wasn’t addressing those differences in its consideration of Beaver-Butler – it was exalting theological differences, as if contradictory ideas about such issues as sexuality and morality were compatible because the people who hold them are diverse.
That’s theological double talk. As a denomination, we are sharply divided because we have accepted a ruse: that truth lies in the eyes of the beholder. Our Scripture and confessions say otherwise. When Paul and Peter had different notions about how to treat Gentiles, the Council of Jerusalem established guidelines. When the Church was tempted in the first century to follow the moral standards of the world, its leaders produced the Didache (the teachings). The Apostles’ Creed asserted the divine-human Jesus, contrary to some of the earliest heresies in the Church. The Nicene Creed declared unequivocally that the three persons of the Trinity were of the same substance, or essence. Similarly, our other confessions dispatched error and heresy by reasserting the ageless truths of God.
God has not changed. His Word written and incarnate has not changed. He has not revised his standards or his law to conform to culture. He has not called us to follow our own twisted ideas about his kingdom. His teachings are not options on a salad bar. They are not conveniences that would allow us to do as we please.
God calls us not to individual preferences, but to “one Lord, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” That is a truth we must rediscover. For that truth is the only basis for our peace, purity and unity.