No Middle Ground

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.

A recent survey from Renewal Fellowship asked readers where their minds were at four months after the historic change in doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). It was hardly a scientific survey, but the responses mirrored what we’ve been hearing in conversations: In general, “We are staying in the PCC for now, while waiting to see what the next General Assembly enacts.”

Within the tent of orthodoxy (defined roughly as those who aren’t comfortable with the formal adoption of parallel definitions of marriage by General Assembly in June) are those who are actively planning to depart no matter what (if they haven’t already), those who are being called to remain within the PCC and those who are hoping and praying for a positive response to the 31 overtures calling for action on the gracious dismissal study and 21 overtures seeking denominational restructuring along theological lines.

Big thanks to Barb Ferrier for taking many hours to research and compile a listing of all overtures submitted since 2015, all overtures on Gracious Dismissal, all overtures on Theological Separation, and a summary of all overtures on Gracious Dismissal and Theological Separation. It's a rich compendium of insight.

The “tent” analogy is a generalization and suggests that there are no firm boundaries; there’s movement within the camps — and great mutual love and co-operation also, for the record.

It’s the response to the overtures that has the attention of many, especially those who are in a “wait and see” mindset. As previously communicated here and in social media, we are actively praying for the members of Assembly Council (AC), who are actively discerning recommendations to General Assembly.

The AC has established (from its membership) a Departures/Alternate Governance Working Group, consisting of Brenda Butler, Henry Han, Peter Kinch (convener), Jeff Murray, Barb Sargent, Linda Shaw, John-Peter Smit, plus Clerks of Assembly Stephen Kendall and Don Muir. The group made a progress report to the November 21-24 Council meeting and hopes to make a final report to the next General Assembly.

As this group works actively to discern a possible response, I would suggest that three things need to be made abundantly clear. (These imperatives are not just to the working group but to the wider denomination, especially those who identify as progressive.)

First, the wider denomination is invited to recognize the profound sense of dis-ease over the changes in doctrine. The paucity of scriptural underpinnings supporting this doctrinal shift is deeply alarming to a significant number of active leaders in the denomination. They are looking for common ground and certainty in both canon and polity as presented in Matthew 7:24-27.

Second, we are invited to recognize and accept that on all sides of our theological spectrum, we are deeply entrenched. The aforementioned survey attracted most of its responses from ministers, which was not surprising. But what did catch our attention was that the most insightful answers came from non-clergy. Two of them hit the nail on the head.

“There is no middle ground,” wrote an Ottawa-area elder.

Said a Quebec elder: “A kingdom divided cannot stand.”

Pause and reflect on those.

Middle ground is defined as standing between two or more conflicting and opposing positions. Parallel definitions, anyone? I don’t think anyone can claim with any seriousness that there’s no appreciable division in the PCC.

On that note, there is, thirdly, an opportunity here to take bold leadership as denomination and seek accommodation for all. Realistically, “parallel definitions” of marriage and “liberty of conscience” are non-starters for many who either describe themselves as orthodox or as progressive. For them, the language of the remits does not provide middle ground. So, let’s allow birds of a feather to flock together or for others to leave the nest. What a wonderful opportunity to end the infighting.

I echo the prayer posted in recent weeks on the Pray for the PCC group on Facebook.

“May all voices, especially those in the minority, be heard, acknowledged and incorporated into any decision. May this not be a place where a weak majority, a 50+1, rules the day. May the Council be willing to submit to the awesomeness of God, whose ways may not be politically attractive or expedient or immediately gratifying but pave the way for kingdom living. Amen.”

6 thoughts on “No Middle Ground

  1. I am totally confused by the above commentary. What do you mean there is no middle ground? The Remits allow for middle ground. A minister can choose to marry gays or not marry gays. Please explain why you are so dogmatic and please tell me the texts in Scripture that you base your beliefs on. If they are from the Old Testament I don’t think they count. Jesus message was one of love. He preached, “ Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Think about how you would feel if God had decided that you were going to be gay. Would He expect you to deny your sexuality? I don’t think so. My views are diametrically opposed to yours. Since you have not published my views before you probably won’t publish this response either but maybe you will surprise me. At any rate I would appreciate an answer to my request of Bible texts.

    • Hi Elsie. We’ll just have to disagree. I should point that that the OT is just as valid as the NT. All of scripture says the same thing concerning sexuality: one man/one woman for the ultimate purpose of procreation. Gender complementarity. Jesus, as the Prince of Peace (among other things) was prophesied in hundreds of places in the OT. “No middle ground” simply means Jesus wasn’t wishy-washy in His message. His way or the enemy. Yes, a minister can choose, but we really don’t have a choice if we truly adhere to scripture. General Assembly committed an grave error. As for sexual orientation, we don’t see that as sin. Yes, God allows same-sex attraction. A great mystery. But He allows a lot of things and our heads and hearts are hardly pure. What he does is call us to live godly lives. Easy? Nope. Fair? Hardly. I have great compassion for those who are same-sex attracted. We love everyone. But life is short compared to eternity. What joy for those who deny themselves and seek to be one with God. The Holy Spirit can bring great peace and joy to those who dedicate their whole beings to Him. Peace of Christ. — Andy C.

  2. Andy I have been waiting for a Board Blog. You have been clear on your position regarding the GA remits but I am unclear as to the individual Board members positions.

    • Norman, my opinions are reviewed and endorsed by the board’s executive members prior to publication. This implies that they are largely in agreement. The blogs represent the general position of the RF board, being mindful of the fact that each board member is free to express individual views. One thing I can say with certainty is that the board adheres to orthodoxy as understood in the traditional understanding of scripture and therefore does not support the two remits approved by General Assembly. Hope this answers your question.

  3. I agree with the elders that:
    There is no middle ground.
    A kingdom divided cannot stand.

    Those who are waiting for the answers to the overtures are merely waiting to see if the assets which were consecrated to the ministry of worship of God and the proclamation of His word may continue to be used for God’s work.

  4. Andy, thank you for this clear and thoughtful piece. May God continue to bless you in the coming year, and all those who provide leadership in the RF

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