Friday, June 23, 2006

Schism is Wrong

The normal state of the church is a competition of the left and right for the loyalist center. Sometimes that competition breaks down, and one side or the other talks about splitting the church. When the Presbyterian Church recovered from one of these schisms, the Old Side/New Side split of the early 18th century, it wisely adopted the standard for dissent that we have to this day. The standard of 1758 reads:
That when any matter is determined by a major vote, every member shall either actively concur with, or passively submit to, such determination; or if his conscience permit him to do neither, he shall, after sufficient liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our communion without attempting to make any schism. Provided always, that this shall be understood to extend only to such determinations as the body shall judge indispensable in doctrine and Presbyterian government.

In the months ahead, there will be calls for schism, some in anger, some under the name of "gracious separation." Our polity does not allow for either, and our officers have vowed to uphold the standard of modest remonstration and, if necessary, peaceable withdrawal.

I do firmly believe that the church can return to civil competition under the PUP standard, which is our good old Adopting Act standard. But if some of our brothers and sisters, of the left and the right, feel it necessary to leave, let them do so in the decent and orderly way that our church has wisely upheld for a quarter millennium.


Ed McLeod said...

Thanks for the tone and the content of your reports from GA. From my seat, at the back of the convention hall, I thought your insights were always on target and represented a much needed dose of sanity.

Michael W. Kruse said...

I suspect there will be groups that will call for some type of separtion but I don't think any mass departure into a new or existing denomination will happen. That is not the big problem. The big problem is going to be quite evaportion. Those who are committed to clear vision and mission will not tolerate this lack of boundaries.

I have been in two historic inner city congregations where the church eventually shut the doors. My experience is that these churches have had two kinds of people. First, the loyalists who simply can't imagine anything different and can't bear the thought of closing. Second, those of some minority view who feel unaccepted elsewhere and need a base from which to advance their agenda. They are tolerated by the loyalists because they will at least keep the institution alive.

In the two churches I was in, these two groups joined forces to block any effort to address their co-dependent relationship and bring clarity to common mission. Only when there was a blow-up and the activists quit did the loyalists in a panic driven desperation agree to make changes, but it was too late.

I have recently worked in a consluting role with two urban congregations that were in similar conditions to the two I had been a apart of. After going through a visioning process where clearly articulated vision, mission, and objectives were stated, one congregation has reversed decline and another shows promise of doing so. They lost a few folks that didn't like the set boundaries but the first congregation has replaced those folks (and more) with others who are excited about the vision.

I don't question the left, right, loyalist dynamic being at play in the denomination. But it is not the only dynamic. What the GA did "feels" all to much like these two churches I was a part of. A vocal dissident group has manged to co-opt an increasingly anxious loyalist group to blur the boundaries so they may continue to pursue their co-dependent relationship.

Yes, my theological leanings are to the right of the center but the view I just shared is one that I have heard firm affirmation of by some folks who run in circles at the national level who do not share my theological leanings. While there is a theological/politics component to this, there is also an organizational dynamics issue that is unnerving to those of us who have done advanced study in orgnizational dynamics and seen a number of scenarios from a consultants perspective.

Just like the churches I was at, most of those who desired healthy clearly articulated boundaries that would give life to mission are not going to stage an organized revolt. People just don't care that much about denominations. They will just quitely disappear.

Denis Hancock said...

Personally, I wish the Book of Order had the 1758 statement (actively concur, passively submit, or peaceably withdraw) in the main text, rather than as a footnote to G-0107b.

Actually G-0107 is worth reading in its entirety, and on a regular basis -- it serves as a good reminder of how we should conduct ourselves.

Does "peaceably withdrawing" constitute schism? (not that I plan to do anything of the sort)

Gruntled said...

I have read "peaceably withdraw" to mean, at least, without declaring the church to be apostate or yourself to be a martyr (as, for example, Machen did). I would further read it to mean that you don't try to talk others into leaving with you, especially not as corporate bodies.

Anonymous said...

From my perspective at the Assembly, many Commissioners did not realize what they were doing when they voted for recommendation number 5. They headed the call of past Moderator Marj Carpenter and just wanted to do something new, and the only thing new in front of them was the PUP report.

Gruntled said...

No doubt there is always some confusion at the Assembly. On the other hand, this is the most thoroughly discussed report of the church in living memory. I don't think that, at that point in the Assembly, there were many who were taken by surprise.

Anonymous said...

I thought the normal 'state' of the church was in submission to the lordship of Christ, not shaped by the world's categories of 'left' and 'right.' Don't let ecclesiology give way to political philosophy.

talleyrand said...

Scism is wrong.

So why did the Assembly raise the question so pointedly that they might be committing it?

We need to get straight that just any division of or withdrawal from an institution with the word "church" in its name is not schism.

Schism (in a protestant context) is what happens when a group of Christians declares that their favorite theological error is a term of communion with them.

Those who object to the PUP report are not in any danger of schism, then. Virtually the whole communion of the saints, including virtually the whole church in existence today, agrees that the error does not lie among those who say homosex is not God's desire.

Tony Palubicki said...

Yours is a sensible voice rising from a sea of fear and panic. I agree, those who cannot, in good conscience, embrace the constitution should "peacably remove themselves." The time has also come for us to stop throwing stones at each other. Instead of listening to the voices of panic and fear from the right and left, we need to start listening for the voice of God speaking in the midst of the storm. This, of course, demands that we follow the lead of the wind and the sea when Jesus commanded them to "Be Quiet! Be Calm!"

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV said...

Yes, schism is wrong.

However, it very well may be that it is the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which has so acted as to cut itself off from the larger church of Jesus Christ.

If that turns out to be the case, leaving such a body in order to reunite with the larger church of Jesus Christ could hardly be called schismatic.

Walter L Taylor said...

The bigger question here is whether we are discussing "schism" or "separation from the false church." Calvin discusses both in the Institutes, one after the other in sections 4/1 and 4/2. Calvin himself embraced separation from the Roman church.

What we face today, a crisis not seen at this level in Presbyterianism since the Civil War, may well entail the second option above for those committed to the biblical and Reformed faith, especially those who desire to be constitutionally Presbyterian, and not simply institutionally Presbyterian.

bobleaf said...

How come the gays did not concur or submit for all these long year but continue to stir up schism?

Ray Schroeder said...

May we say "no" to schism, but may we work, in all meekness and love, to reverse this loophole that has been created in our ordination standards. Let us take the long view. This is not just about ordination standards, it is about the interpretation of scripture and it's place in the church.

Mark Smith said...

I think that many of you are missing something.

Those who are in favor of ordination of gay people have done exactly what you ask - quietly left the denomination. They didn't try to take a congregation with them. They didn't try to take a presbytery with them. They simply faded away - in some cases to another denomination and in many cases to no church at all. (Yes, there are those who have remained. I'm not speaking about them.)

I am in that latter group. I am only now after nearly 20 years considering coming back to the Church (big C, as in ANY denomination).

However, the hateful statements made by those on the right about people who are just being who they were made by God to be - these have me leaning away from a return. At least not to the PCUSA. And they are hateful. To call anyone a sinner on an issue that clearly divides the PCUSA (and it does - see the 30-28 vote in Church Orders on G-6.0106b) is an act of inhospitality and cruelty.

I trust that many of you will say "Good Riddance". I hope that you can explain the future shrinkage of the denomination to your congregations.

Gruntled said...

Trying to change the constitution is not schismatic. It may be annoying, especially if done year after year, in the face of a united center. But it is not schismatic. Leaving the church is not schismatic, either. I know that Calvin made a distinction between leaving a true and false church. It is possible that things might come to such a pass that the "Presbyterian Church" could become wholly false. I do not think we are there. Nor do I think the PUP report comes close to making the church false.

The proponents of PUP do not "embrace homosex" -- not in the report, nor it any public account that I have read. The specifically pro-gay Presbyterian groups opposed to PUP report.

I don't see how an ordained officer of the Presbyterian Church (USA) can in good conscience attempt to split the PC (USA). It would be like claiming that adultery honored your marriage.

Stay and argue, or leave quietly, but don't try to split the church.

SPorcupine said...

The first option isn't really "stay and argue."

It's "stay, worship, love one another, and argue"

Gruntled said...


Dr. James C. Goodloe IV said...

If all splits in the church are illegitimate, then the past and current existence of the Presbyterian Church is already illegitimate, since it came out of a split.

If the past or current existence of the Presbyterian Church is or ever has been legitimate, then another split in, of, or from this branch of the church cannot be, in and of itself, illegitimate.

Obviously, there may be better or worse reasons for a split.

Trying to change the constitution may not be schismatic and and of itself. But effectively amending it illegally, without due process and the vote of the presbyteries, and amending it in such a way as to break fellowship with the larger church of Jesus Christ, is schismatic. That has happened. That is done.

Surely then for some to distance themselves from such schism is not itself schismatic.

Gruntled said...

Wherein lies the illegal ammendation?

G 6.0108 already reads:
It is necessary to integrity and health of the church that the persons who serve in it as officers shall adhere to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government. So far as may be possible without serious departure from these standards, without infringing on the rights and views of others, and without obstructing the constitutional governance of the church, freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture is to be maintained.

The AI says the same thing as the above. It emphasizes, as has always been true in our polity, that the local examining body has to determine what constitutes adhering to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity. If the locals screw it up -- if, for example, they ordained someone who engaged in the unrepentant, self-acknowledged practice of sexual relations outside of marriage -- then the higher governing bodies still have the right of substantive and procedural review that they have always had.

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV said...

The illegal change comes in recommendation 5, section c, subsection (2): Whether any departure constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order, thus barring the candidate from ordination and/or installation.

The suggestion that an ordaining body can determine “whether” a departure (i.e., from the “standards”, a word interestingly absent from this clause!) would bar anyone from ordination means, of course, that an ordaining body can determine that a departure (from the standards) does not bar one from ordination, and that means that there are no longer any standards! The report can say in 100 other places that we have standards, but all those are rendered null and void by this one clause, which anticipates ordaining those not meeting the standards.

The report keeps insisting that it maintains our standards, but it does not. To suggest that even a single ordination is not barred by departure from the standards, and to make such a suggestion an official ruling, means that we no longer have any standards. Period. End of discussion. We can now ordain self-professing adulterers, embezzlers, and gossips, should an ordaining body be so inclined.

This report has now tied together ordination standards (including those in G-6.0106) with consideration of the essentials of the faith (G-6.0108) in a way that I do not believe has ever been done before. As is indicated in the rationale, the standards are no longer requirements. They are merely ideals to which we should aspire.

To say this more clearly: This recommendation is now the official and binding authoritative interpretation and understanding of our ordination standards, and since it allows for the ordination of those who depart from the standards, the standards are no longer requirements.

By doing so through authoritative interpretation, the General Assembly has effectively but illegally amended the constitution, since the General Assembly has changed the practice of the church (No, you cannot do these ordinations; Yes, you may do them, and here is how you do them) without letting the presbyteries have a say so in such an amendment.

Gruntled said...

I thought Joe Coalter, a member of the PUP Task Force, put it well in the Ecclesiology committee hearings. He said that no one meets all the standards of all the confessions and Form of Government. Examining bodies make a decision in every case about whether the candidate's departure is a bar to ordination, or only touches an inessential matter. This state of affairs was recognized in the Adopting Act of 1729, which governed ordination in the church up until the Kenyon case and the subsequent adoption of Amendment L concerning women serving in all offices in the 1970s.

The Adopting Act was never formally abrogated, though, and the examination rule on which it rested was embodied in G 6.0108. The Task Force clarified that this old standard was still within the constitution, and was still a good idea. The AI just adopted supercedes the Kenyon decision.