Our answer was that we can only hope and pray that a tradition that has demonstrated so much vitality and usefulness for the last 350+ years in the New World will still have a role to play in the ongoing work of God’s kingdom.
The second dimension of time between the times lifted up was the time between the now of confused theological thinking and the time when someday we may once again have our feet on solid ground biblically and theologically. A subset of this issue are our views on various issues related to human sexuality which have been the source of enormous internal turmoil for the past 25 years.
Regarding the present state of theology and where we need to go, we begin with the confession that no longer are we Presbyterians essentially a confessional church. By expanding the number of confessions, a step taken to be positive and broadening at the time (1967, former UPCUSA), we have actually reduced the degree of clarity for most Presbyterians about what we really do believe to be the truth. As a result, we have also reduced the degree to which Presbyterians can be enthusiastic and affirmative about what they believe. Our perspectives are diffuse and cloudy. Therefore, cultural invasions from secular and pluralistic versions of religious beliefs have had a major impact on our convictions. We have lost a common theological center.
Evidences of this situation are:
(1) disputes over the three-fold biblical name of God and its application to the historic ordinances of the church, such as baptism and other liturgical settings;
(2) strange outcroppings of syncretism in services of congregations which would lead observers to believe that the Presbyterian Church affirmed every pathway to God equally and was willing not to judge any by theological criteria;
(3) the lack of sustained theological inquiry related to the great moral and social issues of our time;
(4) the loss of theological discourse in our governing bodies;
(5) the almost complete disuse of the Book of Confessions in the life of the church;
(6) the inability of most to operate comfortably within the world of theological discourse, as Scripture is related to life through the preaching, teaching, fellowship and mission functions of the church;
(7) the failure of many congregations to provide regular, in-depth study of the confessions for their members and particularly for their officers.
The situation is dire. A confessional church without a confessional consensus and stance; a theological tradition, divorced from the historic role of being the means by which the church measures and evaluates the preaching of the church and its catechesis of its members; theological institutions whose values are no longer as convincing to large numbers of lay people as they once were; related church-created institutions that no longer serve the vital function of the church in teaching and shaping the mind of the people of God.
For the Presbyterian Church to recover its theological roots, vision and voice, there must be conscious churchwide effort to name the problem and to address it through every means possible, for without a confessional/theological core, the Presbyterian Church cannot be the Presbyterian Church. Without institutions, colleges and seminaries dedicated explicitly to the presentation and perpetuation of its faith, the Presbyterian Church will not survive.
Yes, institutions must evolve and traditions must be reinterpreted for new times, but the prosecution and vigorous advocacy of our faith is our greatest responsibility. The faith of the church may not be trifled with nor disposed of. To allow this to happen is to lose the means of hearing, believing and obeying God’s present Word to us, carrying on the conversation of faith intelligently in the body of Christ.
Send your comment on this editorial to The Outlook. Please give your hometown.