The more I read, think and pray over the paper, “On the Question of Unity and Diversity”, the more questions I have.
For those unaware, this is the document that the 2018 General Assembly referred to the church for study and response in light of our deep division over the issue of same-gender attraction and marriage. The Special Committee of Former Moderators has picked up on it and in a letter to all congregations in October, they’re urging the church to reply earlier than the January 31, 2019, deadline if possible. The former mods are eager to “receive and reflect” on our responses to this document.
So let’s give it to them.
If you’ve already studied, digested, and prayerfully responded – hats off you.
Most of us, I suspect, are just getting into it.
To those who are well-versed in theology, the document is a relative easy-read. But that’s not everyone. So, in the interest of breaking down the issues and making the process a little more user-friendly, I share the questions that popped into my head as I read, prayed, and re-read the paper.
Here they are.
Is it more important for us, as God pleasers, to accommodate theological diversity or to seek authentic biblical thinking? Can they be of equal importance?
With reference to Romans 14 – which is discussed at some length – does what we eat and drink carry eternal consequences? Does what we do with our bodies in a sexual manner carry eternal consequences? Is it fair to compare the two?
Is it fair to apply the dictum, “in essential things unity, in non-essential things freedom, and in all things charity” to a 21st-century debate? Assuming the “essentials” question is valid, what can be considered essential?
Is the definition of marriage a non-essential? Depending on the answer, do I want to be part of a denomination which has omitted any definition of marriage or has a definition that I don’t believe is biblical?
Rather than unity in diversity, should we be more occupied with the question which lies beneath the issue? (The authors state on page 8 that this issue “is the tip of an iceberg of disagreements, most of which lie unexamined beneath the surface.”)
Perhaps that’s the most-nagging question.
Our theological differences – how we interpret the Bible, how we see ourselves in relation to our triune God etc. – are nothing new. It’s just how far and wide our different ideologies are allowed to travel. In the 21st century secular mindset — which has crept into the church — boundaries (if they even exist) are in a state of flux. And there is no absolute truth, except for the fact that there is none. Which is a whole other matter. Or is it?
Along with my questions, John 10:10 pops in10 my head:
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” is how the English Standard Version puts it.
“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” is the New Living Translation.
Rich and satisfying, in abundance. All well and good. But is Jesus talking about life in these bodies or in the Kingdom mindset that we seek?
Even simpler: is this life about us or is it about God?
Before we weigh in on this important paper, perhaps that might be the first question to answer.
Whenever discussions over unity comes to mind I find myself recalling Jesus’s little band of 12 disciples. Hindsight reveals that this group was far from unified. Jesus knew it all along; but the disciples didn’t. They may have felt quite unified. Judas was likely an agreeable, conscientious, conservative kind of guy. He didn’t like wastefulness, which most of us would agree with. He was probably quite moral too – on the surface. His serious lack of integrity wasn’t fully exposed till the temptation came along. Yet, his evil deed wasn’t the greatest tragedy. The greatest tragedy was his failure to accept God’s merciful forgiveness and to trust how God’s had used his failure for good.
In our passion for unity it seems we’re striving for unanimity – just enough “agreeableness” to preserve our little band of Presbyterians and keep tensions at bay. We’ll predictably find ourselves achieving the opposite. But that need not be all bad. It’s an opportunity to learn about ourselves, through our reactions. Perhaps we discover ourselves to be less virtuous or more vindictive than we thought. Our private fears may rise to the surface. Maybe we discover that we are more concerned about money and security than we thought. Maybe we realize we’ve put our trust in the institution more than God, and that’s really why we get so angry … And on and on it goes. But painful, humbling self-disclosure of our secret sins need not be so bad: After all, it’s the path to the cross, to experiencing God’s mercy….. lest we cling to our pride during this time of trials….. and end up a tragedy – like Judas.