For the first time in my 50 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church I am feeling a sense of rejection from some of my friends and colleagues in the ministry – both clergy and lay. My sense of rejection isn’t simply a matter of recent positions taken by our denomination. It is much more personal than that. It is the fact that some members of my Presbyterian family are either leaving the denomination entirely or staying inside the church by seeking to build a fence around themselves. They no longer want to be in the same presbytery with those who may not agree with them on specific issues before the church. Some have decided that they can’t accept some of the statements now included in the constitution which they vowed to uphold at their ordination. Many of these are people with whom I have worked and served over the years. This desire to separate ourselves from those whose beliefs, concerns, or interpretations of the Scriptures may be different hurts us all.
It’s not like any of us have ever agreed on everything that has come from the upper governing bodies or councils of the church. Through all the years we have served Jesus Christ together in the Presbyterian Church there have been many issues and interpretations of the Scriptures about which we have disagreed. Yet, we have continued to serve our Lord together in and through the presbytery, synod and General Assembly of OUR church.
Rather than serve together, now we feel that we must serve God separately. What has happened? Regardless of what we believe or don’t believe all of us have always been sinners. Are some of us more sinful now than we were 10 or 20 years ago? All of us have had the experience of being wrong on a number of issues over the years. We have not agreed with many of our sisters and brothers over a number of things. We have disagreed with positions, papers, and pronouncements at every level of the church. This is to be expected. As the Historic Principles in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) state: “…we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men (sic) of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it is the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” (G-1.0305)
I doubt if there is a denomination, or a congregation for that matter, whose members agree on everything. As a friend of mine has been credited with saying to a congregation from which a number of members were leaving, “If you find the perfect church; when you join, it will no longer be perfect.”
None of us above a certain age is required to be in the Presbyterian Church. We have voluntarily chosen to belong to this particular part of the church of Jesus Christ. We can leave it at any time for any reason or for no reason. At the same time, we can also choose to remain in the church and try to ignore or disassociate ourselves from those with whom we disagree. Not only does that negate “the peace, unity, and purity of the church,” it implies that the sinners who choose to stay and continue to serve the Lord through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are less worthy and perhaps even heretics in our attempts to follow the Way of Jesus. We grieve at your going not because we think you are wrong and we are right, but because your leaving or separating yourself from us creates a hole in our hearts and in the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ.