Craig Barnes has been a colleague in the renewal efforts within the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a generation. In 2013 when he was named President of my alma mater Princeton Theological Seminary, I was hopeful.
However, in an article posted on The Christian Century, Barnes seems to be advocating for a preservation of the visible unity of the institutional church through the allowance of a divided mind. Instead of the balkanizing effect of biennial assembly voting, advocates a revised agenda wherein local congregations be given time to come around to the “prophetic proclamations” of “the gospel” that “gay marriage” is “justice for LGBT people.”
The problem is the inability of a modernist superstructure like a denomination to handle postmodern affections.
What are these so-called “postmodern affections” and how do they substantively differ from the affections of fallen Man since the dawn of time? The Word of God has not changed about such affections.
Then Barnes says,
In the 1950s, the church could speak with one voice because people trusted big institutions. Then it made sense to speak about the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, or Methodist position on the issues. Now we have to humbly remind ourselves that there is a myriad of positions on every issue within the church.
Is it possible that “in the 1950’s the church could speak with one voice” not because of a trust of “big institutions” but because it willingly trusted more rightly discerned the perfect and pleasing will of God in full submission to God’s authority?
The seminary president rightly respects the position of local pastors caught in the body-slam of denominational wrangling. But he misidentifies the problem as a diversity of opinion instead of a divided and divisive theological mind. Maybe a “myriad of positions on every issue within the church” works in the academic environment of PTS but Christ’s mind is divided when it comes to the witness of His own Body, the Church.
In the 1990, Barnes served on the board of Presbyterians for Renewal. And in 1996, as the pastor of Washington D.C.’s National Presbyterian Church, he worked for the adoption of an amendment to the Book of Order requiring officers of the Presbyterian Church USA to abstain from all sexual activity outside of the covenant bond of marriage between one man and one woman. That language was stripped from the constitution in 2010/2011 and in 2014/2015 same sex marriage was approved.
The PCUSA’s newly adopted language in its Book of Order is in open conflict with the statements about marriage in its Confessions and the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. How the denomination will be held together when it does not hold to the revealed will of God in the Word of God is yet to be seen. It will necessarily be a unity based on something other than a shared biblical theology and ethic.