What is a denomination?

With movement happening in Peace River and Cascades Presbytery I thought it might be a good time to go through what we're hearing from Louisville. This is the first in a series of responses to the recently released video.

With more than a few congregations looking at withdrawing and headed another direction I found it sort of interesting that this apologetic started around the question of, "What is a denomination anyway?"

The reason for this starting place is to place what follows within the context of history and to show the rich, varied and unified past that we share as Presbyterians. Joe Small, Director Theology, Worship and Education, talk of the denomination as "give us by our mothers and fathers" and of being "bequeathed to us." He speaks of faith worship and mission as "shared" but not "identical" then explains sharing actually means "broadly shared convictions". He totally ignored the fact that our current denomination was formed in 1983 and that even then there was an escape clause for those from the Southern branch to leave the "family".

Here's my question, just when do "broadly shared convictions" become too thin to be convictions at all? When do convictions merely become ideas, thoughts, theories and nice stories?

  • Is visiting with a terrorist government or calling our troops in Iraq war criminals part of this richness of our shared convictions or an insult to those serving in our military and believe Israel has a right to exist? [This from one who is NOT in the Israel is always right camp].
  • Is ignoring or downplaying our constitutional ban on same-sex weddings part of these "broadly shared convictions" or a denial of ordination vows?
  • Is word play, Ms. Morrison told a San Francisco Examiner reporter, "It says 'chastity,' not 'celibacy'" central to our "broadly held convictions" or simply a step away from orthodox practice?

Charles Wiley, Coordinator Office of Theology and Worship, couches his answer in terms of Baptism and the Apostles Creed. Whereas Small's answers promotes the "common-ground" theme or "sound-bite theology" Wiley's wants to root to the wonderful past seen in our creedal standards.

One complaint since PUP is that we no longer are a confessional church since the declaration of a Session or Presbytery and set aside those items which are essential.

Give him his do, Wiley rightly says, "The Apostle's Creed expresses the church's faith throughout the centuries and is there for a guide to the church's common faith." Unfortunately he seems to think every pastor and member who reads, recites or responds with the Apostle's Creed actually believe it and have a uniform understanding of what it means. Think about how the LDS church and Christians use the same language and mean totally different things.

Joe Small says the confessions are, "Not a doctrinal rulebook". They are a "conversation that's carried on between us and those who lived and died the faith before us". Immediately following this he says, "So that, in the BOC [Book of Confessions] we give full expression to what we confess in the Apostles Creed, the communion of saints."

Now does his statement mean the Apostles Creed in preeminent in our Book of Confessions or that only in the area of the communion of saints it's preeminent? The last conversation in this part of the video has Wiley back pedaling from the "theological work" done by groups under the supervision of GA and Presbyteries and the "theological policy of the church". He says, "The church has only one theological policy and that is the BOC [Book of Confessions]. A book that is subordinate to the Scriptures yet is the constitutional embodiment of our theological standards."

I wish that were the case but it's not. Whether Small or Wiley want to admit it or not the PUP report, a theology that promotes and encourages beliefs and actions in violation of our confessions is a much stronger witness to the real "theological policy" of the PCUSA than any spin the powers-that-be can put on it.


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