A Dualling Dynamic

This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.

While a conversation about colonialism in the PCC is vital and overdue – as described in my May 2nd column – there’s another dynamic begging to be addressed.

Mostly absent from April’s Renewal Day discussion was the voice of those in orthodoxy who believe they have no future in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), even if separate theological wings are granted. Some congregants, in fact, have already departed.

Seven overtures are awaiting the response of the next General Assembly. Six are proposing the creation of two or three separate wings within the denomination to accommodate different theologies. One is actually calling for the creation of a “partner or sister denomination” that would be linked to the PCC only to share the pension plan.

“Should I stay or should I go?” Many who are asking that question are itching to depart but are awaiting GA’s response to those overtures.

To those who are anxious to leave, our Renewal Day panelists and speaker said, “Wait.”

“Please stay. We need your witness and your continued voice.”

“Wait. Wait as long as you can.”

It’s an implicit call for a discussion about theology within orthodoxy.

On the one hand are those whose desire is to create safe space within the existing denomination to operate in mutual respect but without interference from one another. It’s an underlying clarion call to keep the PCC together – even if it means separate rooms in the same house – rather than split or allow congregations to depart. It’s a firm stand against gracious dismissal.

Many of us in orthodoxy keep our distance from those who are bent on revising our subordinate standards. And when we do talk, we steer clear of the issue. The separation is even wider with LGBTQI Presbyterians.

Renewal Day speaker Rev. Jonathan Hong referred to the matter of proximity in his April 25 presentation on the distance between Korean and Anglo congregations. “In ministry, it’s easier to hate a congregant member when you see them in passing weekly; it’s harder to remain hating them when you have to talk with them weekly; it’s even harder to remain hating them when you have to do life together with them.” Hong suggested using a mediator in order to bring the Korean churches into fellowship with the rest of the denomination.

Might that same approach be used to bring revisionists and traditionalists together to work out some house rules if we are to co-exist in a denomination with dual definitions of marriage?

On the other hand are those in orthodoxy who want a fresh start. They yearn for a denomination united in traditional, reformed hermeneutic, in which there is no debate over sexuality. The outlook would focus on how to preserve orthodoxy, equip congregations to go deeper in their Christian experience and then witness an apostolic walk to an unbelieving world.

They are motivated and inspired by Biblical commands to remove unbelievers from our midst, something found throughout Scripture.

“Woe to you,” Christ the Lord spoke to the church of the day.

“Remove the impurities,” the Lord spoke though Isaiah.

“Remove this person from your fellowship,” the Lord spoke through Paul.

It’s a much-different vision than that of those who see the PCC as a collection of congregations and presbyteries which represent wildly-differing theology and practice and yet mutually respect one another without interference. The ones pondering complete separation ask, “Is that even possible? Would the conversation ever go away to allow us to be the church?”

I doubt that either side will completely convince the other. But as a discussion point, I remind the church of something more important than a workable atmosphere between those of different mindsets: reaching the lost. There is no greater call. How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring Good News. That is the core of Christ’s departing command.

And so, I ask, “Are we better positioned to witness Christ to the unchurched as a community of one mind, united in orthodoxy, or as a collection of communities united in respectful diversity?”

It’s not so much a matter of optics, how the rest of the world sees us. Frankly, that should be of no concern. What matters is what Christ wants of us.

3 thoughts on “A Dualling Dynamic

  1. For me, staying in the current denomination, even under separate “wings” is a non-starter. The question I feel we need to ask ourselves is this: “Do we want the blessing of God’s presence in our lives, churches, etc.”? If we want the blessing of God’s presence, then we absolutely cannot be part of something that is abhorrent to God and from which he will withdraw his presence. The darkest day in the history of God’s people was the golden calf incident (even to this day it is considered darker than the holocaust). Why? Because on that day, God withdrew his presence from his people on account of their sin. Moses intervened, and God heard, but he was no longer present with his people (in their very midst) as he was before (the tabernacle was now pitched outside the camp). The withdrawal of God’s presence is an awful thing, and if we think we can simply continue to be part of something from which God will withdraw and still be blessed and prosper, guess what, we’re fooling ourselves (cf 1 John 1). Do we long for and desire the blessing of God’s presence — in our personal lives, in our families, in our marriages, in our churches? Then we simply cannot continue to participate in what God finds abhorrent. We must leave it behind.

  2. Dear Andy,
    Thank you for your comments. Yes, there are at least two viewpoints if not more within the orthodox camp about what to do moving forward. But I will work with the two you suggest.
    My concern with what you have written is that you cite scripture on the one side and not on the other — which does not feel like fair treatment. There is as much Biblical material to say stay as there is to say leave. I will unpack only one text. Jesus prayed that the church would be one — John 17 — so that “the world may believe that you have sent me.” I do not know how many times in 30+ years of ministry people outside the church have made comments like — “If all the churches could get together and stop fighting each other I would believe.” Now, I hear the voices saying — “They don’t really mean that.” And I have been there, have made those same arguments in my head. But I am starting to re-think the comments. As churches in the community I am in start working together there is a new buzz about church and faith in town. And believe me the churches in town do not agree on everything.
    My point is this — while there is Biblical support for leaving — that is not where all the Biblical support is. The desire to stay is also deeply rooted in the Biblical narrative.
    Thank you for listening.
    Peter Bush

    • In reply to Peter Bush: That’s a fair observation. I have to be honest and state that the lack of Biblical citation for “stay and pray” might be an unwitting indication of my personal leaning. It wasn’t my intention at the time of writing to be lopsided, but that’s how the piece came out. (Hence the disclaimer atop the blog that it might not necessarily reflect the official RF position!) The art of the blog is to allow it to speak for itself and then invite feedback, which you have done. I appreciate your John 17 contribution and look forward to conversations in orthodoxy in the months to come.

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