What then does it mean to be a Presbyterian?


‘What then does it mean to be a Presbyterian?’

What does it now mean to be a Presbyterian?  Every country club, civic association or condominium, for that matter, has rules of organization, statements of principle and codes of conduct to which members must adhere. Every religion has tenets of faith by which members define themselves and their beliefs in contrast to the values of other religions, cultures, governments and groups. Reading through the new Form of Government (FOG), I have to ask, what makes anything about the new PCUSA distinctly Presbyterian?

When I was in seminary, aside from a basic adherence to the great confessions of the church, a partiality to Calvinism was part of the distinctiveness of Presbyterianism, in contrast to the doctrines of the Methodists, Catholics and Lutherans. But I think the new FOG is foggy to say the least.  Take this section for example:

In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God unites persons through baptism regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability, geography, or theological conviction. There is therefore no place in the life of the Church for discrimination against any person. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership (Book of Order, 1.0403)

Does that mean that a person who denies Jesus Christ, or is a Bhuddist, or Hindu, or atheist, let alone not a Calvinist, can become a member or elder or pastor in the PCUSA? (Although we are not to be called elders or pastors anymore either …) Should people be baptized without professing faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross? If people do not need faith in Jesus Christ, then what is the purpose and the mission of the church? Is it only to be nice and kind to everyone and do good social work, but to deny Jesus, because insisting on faith in Christ would be discriminatory and unloving?  This makes a mockery and nonsense of the whole idea of being a church. To have no articles of faith, except that all faiths and beliefs are equally valid, is to say nothing about anything and proves oneself irrelevant.

And of course, there is now no point in asserting or insisting on a moral code of conduct for pastors or members. With homosexuality affirmed as “god given,” there is no way any individual congregation can resist this new set of standards (or lack thereof). There appears to be no longer any option for the local church, or presbytery, to opt out and set up another (traditional) set of standards or values:

Each congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) shall be governed by this Constitution. The members of a congregation put themselves under the leadership of the session and the higher councils (presbytery, synod and General Assembly) (Book of Order, G-1.0103).

So, say an individual church refuses to recognize homosexual marriages, but rents out its building for heterosexual marriages. Now if that church gets sued for discrimination, it will not have the legal backing of the new Book of Order or the constitution of the denomination, and it will likely lose in court and be forced to compensate a homosexual couple or be forced to rent them the building, regardless of their beliefs. A church already lost such a suit in 2007 in New Jersey.  In other words, if your church wants to stand on traditional family values and Christian principles, you and your congregation are at the mercy of legal wolves, because the denomination endorses homosexual marriage, and being at odds with your denomination’s confession means you are without a legal, First Amendment exemption to the non-discrimination laws in this country.

I have to ask then: With no standards of faith and belief, and no enforceable standards of morals, what then does it mean to be a Presbyterian? And further, why would anyone want to be one?

Jefferis Kent Peterson
Butler, Pa.


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