As I have traveled to churches, presbyteries and conferences since the last General Assembly, I have shared news of the denomination, telling about the various groups meeting to discern our structure and vision. I have quipped that my suggestion to the 2020 Vision Team for a tagline for our denomination is: “Presbyterians: We’re big on sin, come join us!”
That usually gets a laugh, and I mean it to be lighthearted. Yet I also believe it to be a rock-bottom truth for us. While not as aspirational as one of the Great Ends of the Church, it gets to the heart of a doctrine to which we hold fast. I understand that the word “sin” rings antiquated and judgmental. However, I’m bringing sin back, so to speak.
We Presbyterians are big on sin. We understand that not one of us is righteous — no, not one. We understand that we do the very things we hate, even when we desperately try to do better. We understand that nothing we do is pure, untainted by selfishness, self-interest … sin. We understand that we could never possibly earn God’s favor and, in fact, we deserve God’s condemnation — and yet … God is gracious and abounding in steadfast love. And yet, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And yet, nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. And yet, Jesus came to save sinners.
That’s the other side of the big sin coin: even bigger grace. We’re big on sin because we recognize the astounding, gratuitous, amazing grace of God made known to us in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps my tagline could bear stretching. Presbyterians: We’re big on sin, come join us, so that together we can rejoice in God’s grace! Longer, yes, but better, I think. We refuse to sugarcoat the reality of the wrong we see around and within us. We refuse to rationalize motives or actions. We refuse to say things are not as bad as they seem. Not to heap burning coals on anyone’s head, or wallow in despair, but instead to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to work on us, through us, burning our dross and pushing us closer to Christ.
We’re big on sin, and therefore we see the magnitude and magnanimity of God’s grace. Further, we marvel at the power and will of the Triune God to stay in relationship with us, to claim and remake us.
Presbyterians: We’re big on sin, come join us, so that together we can rejoice in God’s grace and marvel at what God has done with even us! Longer, yes, but better, I think. We’re big on sin, so that grace may abound, and we can recognize and proclaim what God has done.
Maybe as a tagline it’s not all that pithy or catchy as might be helpful. I don’t know. But I do know the symbol we could use: the cross. And there are plenty of songs to go with it: “Amazing Grace” could work. Or, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Or, if you want something more contemporary, “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” isn’t too bad.
My plea, as we sort through structure and A Corp, 2020 Vision and The Way Forward, climate change, per capita and all things in between, is that we keep in mind that we Presbyterians are big on sin. We know that together we must seek to discern God’s will, and that even then we might put our own preferences ahead of the Holy Spirit’s. Regardless, Jesus loves us, this we know. God’s grace abounds, and God’s grace entails transformation, not because of us, but through yet more divine grace. As Eugene Rogers puts it, “Grace moves and changes our desires, so that what we do, including the movements of our will, are in accord both with our willing and with grace.” In other words, we’re big on sin, knowing grace abounds and love transforms. How, therefore, can we not rejoice together, in all circumstances?
Presbyterians: Big on sin, abounding in grace, transformed by love. Shorter, but better, I think. Perhaps those three truths could guide the vision, actions and interactions of the 223rd General Assembly. Could we make T-shirts?
Grace and peace,