The Broadening Church

The gospel is intended for all people. The church is to go to all nations. God's will is that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

As the late Lefferts Loetscher of Princeton Seminary in a book titled The Broadening Church taught us, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been a broadening church -- an inclusive church -- throughout its history, but becoming the people God wants us to be has not been easy.

Our Scottish and Scotch-Irish (and Welsh, and English and New England) heritage is noble and inspiring. The road to the 21st century, however, has been pocked by divisions, too many to county, among and within Presbyterian bodies. In fact, when confronted with the whole history of American Presbyterianism and our antecedents (primarily in the British Isles), one wonders how we made it to 2001 with the majority of American Presbyterians in one ecclesiastical house.

There are still a dozen or so other parts of the Presbyterian-Reformed contingent on the American ecclesiastical landscape but by the grace of God we have achieved greater unity than we have probably deserved, given our historical propensity to divide.

Despite the fact that we are upper class, urban, professional, predominantly white Anglo in composition, we have traditionally been a broad-minded church and a broadening church. We have been a church of refugees, in some respects, welcoming not only those people of color (and others) who are such an important part of our denomination, but refugees from other denominations, Roman Catholic and ultra-conservative churches and sects. They come to the Presbyterian Church because we are open; because we value education, differences of opinion, informed discussions; and because we have a vision of a grace-filled life which comes as gift from the loving God as opposed to living under the heavy yoke of the law. At our best, our fellowship together, in Christ, is based on respect for our fellow human beings as created in the image of God, fallen as we, yet the object of God’s love which does not want to let a single one go.

As many have pointed out, we’ve changed our mind on many issues of great import in decades gone by, such as slavery, segregation, the role of women, to name a few.

The current controversy over sexuality will not go away. It will be with us for decades, perhaps centuries. Despite the fact that everything in our culture changes quickly and nothing seems sacred, deeply held religious convictions that emanate from faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior — of us and of the world — do not change quickly or easily.

For those being asked to question and perhaps to change their views, patience is needed from those whose passionate convictions lead them to opposite conclusions — and vice versa.

If we live by grace in our congregations and governing bodies, the Holy Spirit will lead us ever closer together, into relationships of love and respect, which model God’s relationship with each of God’s children.

Where love reigns, unity cannot be far behind. But it is a love which is patient; kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; does not insist on its own way; is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth — a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

May God grant to each of us — and to all of us together — this kind of love in these difficult but challenging times.


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