The Essentials of Life in the Church
The Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission’s decision to uphold the vote of San Francisco Presbytery to ordain Lisa Larges is now written in the book of life. The decision is worth reading prayerfully in its entirety.
The decision, especially the opinion of those who dissented, prompted me to recall the summary of Reformed church life most of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) learn somewhere along the line:
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things charity.”
Our ancestors forged this wisdom in order to end the slaughter across Europe of Christians by other Christians during the 16th and 17th centuries. It has served us well since then by holding the tension between God alone being the Lord of our individual conscience and our fellowship in the Body of Christ, the church.
However, the Dissenting Opinion in the case of Lisa Larges’ ordination exposed the weakest point in this Reformed foundation for church life — unity rests upon agreement on the essentials of our faith. And in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) right now, there is no agreement on the meaning of those things essential to our faith and our polity. This is causing unbearable pain for many Presbyterians — from every part of our fellowship–hindering our witness to Christ to the world and threatening our existence as a church.
Lisa Larges’ Statement of Departure from G-6.0106b affirms that the first essential of Reformed faith and polity is faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I trust that all Presbyterians at least agree on this.
But what does it mean to have faith in Jesus? How exactly do we know Jesus and live out our faith in the world?
The Dissenting Opinion articulates one way. For Lisa Larges, for myself, and for many others, Jesus and Paul guide us along another way.
Jesus puts front and center loving God and loving neighbor. And Paul offers signs that indicate success in loving which he calls the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
The decision in Parnell v. the Presbytery of San Francisco does not go into these things because of another essential of the Presbyterian Church, in fact, the very reason we are called the Presbyterian Church. They rely upon our tradition that the presbytery has responsibility and authority to assess candidates for the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament. So the Synod PJC left that decision with the presbytery. And San Francisco clearly saw abundant fruit of the Holy Spirit and inspiring faith in Lisa Larges.
Unfortunately, it does not seem to me that those who wrote the Dissenting Opinion in this case agree regarding this essential either.
We have wandered in this wilderness of dissension over the meaning of the essentials of our faith and polity for so long. I continue to return to what is required by our tradition in all things — charity. I will start my walk in the PCUSA in this place each day. I will invite others to join me.
May God in Christ direct us so that the other essentials fall into place too.