I come from the Presbyterian church so I am allowed to poke fun at them. By “come from,” I mean that was the church I was baptized into, went to youth group, sung in the choir, taught Sunday school, and eventually got married in. In a few states and communities, but same denomination.
What’s tripped my humor today is reading not one, but 3 separate articles from assorted Presbyterians on the issue of “unity and like-mindedness.” Bahahaha! “Presbyterian like-mindedness,” now that’s an oxymoron.
For those who don’t know, Presbyterians kind of took the word “schism” and embraced it as their very own. Whether it was conflicts over slavery or conflicts over prohibition, Presbyterians know how to schism with all the enthusiasm of a new dance craze in a fancy night club. Let’s shake it all up and do the schism!
Bottom line here, doctrine never really changes, same Lord, same structural foundations. So those non-believers who take note of the fact that Presbyterians often appear to have 4, okay sometimes more like 10 denominations……within one denomination, well you would be right. It is still one faith however, one Lord, one religion. Jesus Christ is at the head of the table.
Nobody ever schisms off and becomes like, a Hindu or something. I probably shouldn’t even say that. No doubt some Presbyterian somewhere has done exactly that.
So, long history of the church parting company with one another over cultural and political differences. North versus South, slave owners versus abolitionists, teetotalers versus wine drinkers, the dour and sour Old Church versus the fresh, naive, New Church. Staid and reformed versus, so-open-minded-our-brains-done-fell-out.
Generally I enjoyed this history with all good humor and grace. Paul and Barnabas once had a falling out in the bible and they were both good men doing good work. Their split may have led to twice as much of the work of the early church getting done in two different directions. God works for good all things. Truthfully, it is not conflict that frightens me, but rather marching in lockstep. I always need that slight tension that tends to nurture freedom and critical thinking.
So it’s a bit comical that right about the last time the various Presbyterian church factions began yet another formal or even an informal re-unification process, I simply bailed. Some of the church took a hard right, some a hard left, and I was “stuck in the middle with you” as the song goes.
I don’t mean this with any mean-spiritedness at all. I spent about 20 yrs with Presbyterians and met the sweetest people. Not once did I ever have any problems at all. I can’t even begin to tell you what a blessing some of our pastors were.
I was just sitting in church one day and the Lord whispered to me, “You really don’t belong here. This is not where I want you.” So I ever so quietly slipped out the door just like that, and tragically, my absence went completely unnoticed. At the time yet another debate was raging over gay marriage, yet another Presbyterian schism was in the making, and nobody really had time for anything else like…..the actual people in our church.
It always took 16 committee meetings, sessions, retreats, petitions, letters, testimonies, and debriefing vacations just to debate whether or not the American flag should hang in the sanctuary. You try to soothe everyone’s feelings, you will soothe no one’s and the debate will rage on forever.
Presbyterians tend to either have the American flag hanging right next to the cross or now in our brave new world, the rainbow flag. I looked to the left and to the right, saw the symbolism in those flag debates, and realized that what I actually longed for so painfully, was not signs of the world, but signs of Jesus Christ.
Just Jesus, and whole lot more of Him. I actually had to leave my church to go find Him again. I have since found Him many times over, and in many different churches too, although I am kind of stubbornly a church floater to this day.
I tell this long and sordid tale, simply because there is a lot to be learned from watching these Presbyterian struggles and how it might apply to those of us in the Body of Christ in general and how we go forward as a country with all these powerful cultural divisions among us.
What we do is we put Jesus Christ first and we love people as individuals made in the image of God. That simple. It’s very easy to say, but not so easy to put into practice. That however, is the very essence of “like-mindedness.” Our unity is not to be found anywhere but at the foot of the cross.
Fair or unfair, Christians must lead the way on this issue. We must stop perceiving people as SJW’s or liberals or conservatives, or inclusive or exclusive, or trad/cons or feminists. The more worldly labels we insist on wearing, or on slapping on other people, the less room there is for Jesus Christ. We must begin to perceive people as His beloved, as made in His image, not as somewhat dehumanized, faceless symbols of the culture around us.
I don’t wish to sound critical or to in any way imply that Presbyterians somehow create cultural schisms. This post is simply in response to 3 articles, all from members of my former denom who wrote about the importance of unity and like-mindedness and just caused me to spit coffee out my nose. It was just the same old, same old thing, all these external dictates that are supposed to unite us.
Our internal dictates are what unites us.
Our like-mindedness is in Jesus Christ, it is in the blood of the Lamb, it is at the foot of the cross. The moment you start to believe it can stem from some other place, you are in big trouble.
What is needed so desperately in the church right now is people who can listen. One of the biggest flaws we tend to have as Christians is that we are often so busy telling people what they ought to believe that we don’t know how to listen. We have all the answers and what we are going to say is already rehearsing in our minds when others are trying to talk to us……to tell us what the problem actually is.
The second issue is that we don’t have teachable spirits. The teachable spirit is always supposed to be what the other guy has…..so we can just set him straight and teach him.
I had a beautiful youth pastor once, Presbyterian guy even. He embodied both of these ideas so perfectly. He never tried to teach us anything, he’d simply sit back and say, “So teach me about what the Lord has shown you this week, I’ll listen.”
That is what humility actually looks like when it is heavily infused with grace. It really has little to do with submission to authorities, political loyalty, church leadership, statements of faith, or cultural mandates.
He never tried to teach us anything, but in the process he taught us everything.