How One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism Informs My Faith (Eph 4:4-6)
For the fourth time in the last century, the unity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) appears to be in jeopardy. Through these years, differences in the understanding of the authority of Scripture, the ordination of women, and the merger between the PCUS and the UPUSA in 1983 have all been used as grounds for individuals and congregations to leave the PCUSA. Most recently, controversy has moved to the judgment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their place in our church.
Though I understand there are many who disagree with one another in the PCUSA, I am perplexed at the notion of fleeing as a solution. Through the course of my life—since the commitments to the church in confirmation of my Baptism and in the promises made upon ordination to teaching elder—the church has not reflected my deeply and firmly held views on many things. I am, after all, a progressive voice who God placed in a conservative minded Presbytery. It doesn’t feel good to regularly be in the minority opinion, I’ll admit, and yet I stay.
Why? On what grounds do I stay to love and serve God in Christ in the PCUSA?
I rest upon Paul’s appeal for unity in his letter to the Ephesians as a crucial pillar supporting my commitment to the Presbyterian Church:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Paul’s emphasis on one Lord and one Baptism has a historic dimension for me. In one Spirit, both time and space collapse.
Both sides of my family have been Reformed Presbyterians since the emergence of Presbyterian church life in Scotland and England. My mother’s family is all Scottish coming to my home, Western Pennsylvania, in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. My father’s heritage is English Puritan, arriving in New England in the 1600’s and moving over several generations across the frontier of western New York and down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh.
Together as Presbyterians, we are one in God who is “through all and in all.” I treasure being one with them in Christ (as well as being one with the Ephesians).
One Spirit, one faith, one Baptism also undergird two central forms of service I am committed to in the church. The first of these is working for full and equal membership in the church for LGBT Presbyterians. This inclusion flows from our one Baptism, which is the entrance into membership in the PCUSA and a necessary qualification for ordained service along with calling from God and gifts to do the job. Since we share this one Baptism, we all share the blessings and responsibilities of community membership—everyone with no exception.
The other is a commitment to be a colleague in ministry, particularly with those who disagree with me. This is especially important to me when it comes to LGBT inclusion because it is the division over this that has disturbed the PCUSA through the entire 35 years of my being a minister. Season in and season out, I invite for coffee or lunch others in my presbytery who, I know, disagree with me so that we can get to know one another and talk about this and other important matters. Many think I do this to argue and persuade. As far as I know myself, I do this to fulfill my promise to be a friend to my colleagues, to confirm in action that we are one in the body of Christ who is the rock upon which our faith and community are built.
For decades now I have had lunch regularly with a very conservative member of my presbytery named Doug, who is now honorably retired. Eventually during our conversations we always come around to LGBT inclusion and we always try to talk through new ideas with one another. At some point Doug always reminds me that he loves me and he laughs, knowing—though it is hard for my reserved soul to express these feelings—of my love for him as well.
And Doug confirms out loud his trust that we both love and serve one Lord and that we share one faith and one Baptism. When we rise to go our way, I know I have just had a taste of the heavenly banquet.
This is how One Lord, One faith, One Baptism informs my faith. How does it inform yours?
Reverend Janet Edwards