Monday, January 09, 2006

Colliding Convictions, Part 2

Since writing the previous blog posting on letting convictions collide, I have received and appreciated some further useful commentary. Since the issue is important—how we live together in a way that is pleasing to God and conducive to the Kingdom of God—I’d like to hit some further points.

First, Jack Haberer wrote me a warm and generous note, in which he further explained what he meant by “convictions.” Let me quote it for you:

The one thing to keep in mind when I speak about convictions is that that's a key word in the subtitle and, hence, in the whole substance of GodViews [Haberer’s recent book]. I have used it in more recent contexts, particularly the TTFPUP discussions, having the book as backdrop.

In GodViews I do uphold sets of Christian convictions (confessing the truth, cultivating devotion, church building, altruism, and justice-activism) as each having critical importance in the church AND as each having tendencies to err. Not all convictions are equally valid, and many convictions are not valid at all. They ought to be opposed.

We are totally agreed on that point.

Thus, in his editorial, Haberer was most likely speaking of such convictions as having a heart for the underdog or deeply appreciating the value of an historic denomination. That’s great. Some lean more toward one emphasis of the church or another, and we all benefit from that.

But the convictions that are really tearing us apart are deeper and more focused. The greatest divide is over scriptural interpretation and authority. Some of us have decided to follow Scripture wherever it leads, making it the absolute authority in our lives because it is God’s Word. Others have decided that they can subordinate it whenever it apparently conflicts with their life experience, the latest psychological theories, or the spirit of the age, because, for them, it is after all, human thoughts written down to help us out, until something else seems more sensible.

That conflict of convictions comes to a head, quite unfortunately, in the sensitive and so very personal and painful issue of homosexuality. If Scripture means what it says, then homosexual practice is simply wrong. It’s sin, and thus to be avoided and discouraged, and not to be made normative—especially in the lives of those called by the church into leadership positions. But for those with a personal stake in destigmatizing homosexual practice, or those with overactive empathy for homosexual persons, which confuses blanket approval with love, the issue becomes a justice issue. To them, people practicing homosexual sin aren’t sinning at all and should by right have access to church leadership, and to deny it is nothing less than ugly personal prejudice. Scripture that says anything contrary becomes merely a nagging drip to be ignored, reengineered, or denied.

The conflict is, at its root, about how seriously one takes Scripture versus how high one wants to elevate personal experience or psychological theory in contradiction of Scripture. People of great convictions about this issue are very seriously engaged in a contest over the future of the PCUSA.

And at least one side is wrong.

I was rather pleased that someone of no less stature than Abraham Lincoln shared thoughts similar to mine. Carl L. Lammers of Baltimore pointed this out in an insightful letter in The Layman Online (January 9 letters). About slavery and the fact that both sides in the Civil War claimed that they were fighting for God’s will, Lincoln wrote: “God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.” One side or both sides must be wrong, he argued. Amen!

So it’s not best simply to paste a smile on our faces and blithely go on with a whole lot of people in the denomination conscientiously working against what is right and God-pleasing. Something definitely needs to be done about it.

That leaves another decision: Do we simply split up and go our different ways? Or do we beg, cajole, plead, and reason with one another, praying that God will use our efforts to turn people from convictions that are simply wrong?

Ever the optimist, ever one who believes God can move mountains, I have chosen the latter. That means steadfastly believing and even stubbornly contending that some people in this denomination are quite wrong. Their convictions are not to be mindlessly held on to, but are instead to be vigorously countered. They are not in the will of God. They are teaching false doctrine. They are intending to love but are in truth harming people by withholding God’s truth from them. Such convictions cannot be allowed to overrun the PCUSA, directing it in a disastrous course contrary to God’s will.

One person who left a comment on my blog has this to say: "The sense I got from [Haberer’s] comments is not that he thinks holding on to differing convictions is a good thing, but that he takes it as a given--which it is, barring some drastic work of the Holy Spirit--and wants people who are going to hold on to their differing convictions regardless to find ways to hold on to each other as well.”

That’s a fine insight, and most likely correct. I guess I’m just working for that “drastic work of the Holy Spirit” that will lead people to turn back and forswear their foolish ways.

Put me in a museum. I still believe in the authority of the Bible. I still appreciate the elegant logic of an irrefutable argument (a la C. S. Lewis). And I still believe people are changed by an encounter with God’s true truth.

I believe, therefore I blog.


Blogger Rev. Rick Johnson said...

Something's drastically wrong with our denomination when we evangelical Presbyterians have to call ourselves "museum pieces"! In any case, put me on the same shelf.
I know from 1 John 4:18 that "perfect love casts out fear". Yet I honestly do fear what will happen -- that is, what real options we will have -- if PUP's report is given G.A.'s
blessing this summer.

4:11 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the cite, Jim, but since when am I anonymous? (Can anything good come out of Grand Lake?) ;)

In any case, I don't know that I could actually describe as working for that drastic move of the Holy Spirit--the wind blows where it will, and so the Spirit, who moves will we or nil we--but I'm certainly praying for that, and doing whatever I can in my little corner of Denver Presbytery to stay faithful to that hope. All we can really do is lay the groundwork as best we can and then pray that God will honor that and move to change people's hearts; but I agree that that's worth doing. I'm no optimist (on a bad day, I'm a Murphy-caliber pessimist, actually), but I have faith in God, and I believe God is at work in his church; and that's enough.

4:39 AM, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Ahh, the joys of cut-and-paste--just a minor annoyance, but in that first sentence, it should be "describe myself" . . .

4:41 AM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At what point have we reasoned and argued enough?

I don't have the answer, but it seems that as evangelical/confessional Presbyterians arrive at differing conclusions to that question, we split our votes and our movement. Some want to leave, some to stay....either way the Institution-As-It-Now-Stands wins.

A little pessimistic?

Persuade me that we can "keep it together" through another 10 rounds of the same fight.

8:43 AM, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Dwight said...

Suffice it to say I disagree with this post and so I wrote a counter post here.

10:34 AM, January 13, 2006  

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