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

6 Responses
  • Silva Theiss on February 10, 2012

    Hi Janet! I admire your ability to work well with those with whom you have such fundamental disagreements. The world would be a better place if we all would try to do the same. However it seems to me that the logical conclusion here is that we should all still be Catholic, or perhaps Orthodox.

    It is interesting to contemplate what the Catholic church would be like today if the reformers had managed to stay in the church! Surely sometimes, however, separation is okay. Perhaps not ideal, but perhaps in our flawed human world, necessary. The church is the body of Christ, which is one, but if the hand is in charge and tells the ear it now needs to be a hand, I think the ear is better off going off a bit to somewhere where it can be true to its ear-ness, rather than trying to conform to hand-ness. Indeed, the integrity of the body is better preserved if it does so, because the body still has both hands and ears, although it is sad that they are not working together as they should.

    I presume those who wish to leave PCUSA do not feel they have to option to stay with integrity. That is unfortunate. I hope that this was truly a thoughtful, prayerful decision, made slowly enough for its magnitude – I do worry about how quickly it seems to be happening. However, I trust that we, and they, and all others who call Jesus “Lord” (however odd we find the details of their beliefs and practices) will continue to be the one body of Christ in our imperfect world.

  • Janet Edwards on February 10, 2012

    Dear Silva,

    Thanks so much for sharing your pondering upon my thoughts about being one in Christ.

    You prompt me to wonder what the church would be like now if the first inclination to, for instance, allow for the variety of four gospels rather than forcing one standard version of Jesus’ story had continued. When you speak of the hand requiring that the ear be a hand, I mourn the way power over others entered the church, distorting our oneness toward conformity to the provisions of the powerful.

    For me being one in the church is a choice. I choose to stay and I wish others would too because Jesus’ prayed for us to be one not just in theory but in this imperfect world, as you say. I want us to do better than settle for division because being together is difficult or even impugns our integrity.

    I hope that makes sense and spurs you to further sharing here.


  • Silva Theiss on February 11, 2012

    Hi Janet,

    When you say you want us to do better than settle for division because being together is difficult or even impugns our integrity, it feels like you are saying unity is more important than integrity. What, if any, are the limits of that? Was the Reformation a bad idea? 🙂

  • Janet Edwards on February 11, 2012

    Dear Silva,

    You seem to be thinking along the same lines as I am for you raised that exact question that came to me as I thought about my response to you: is unity more important than integrity for me?

    What I thought about is the fact that the official policy of the PCUSA for 30+ years with regard to the full equality of LGBT members has been different from my firmly held view on this. And research has shown that the present generation of young people, including evangelicals, see the church as anti-gay and this contributes to their walking away from us.

    What I am getting at is: I could say that my integrity, or the integrity of my theological position on God’s love for LGBT people, has been compromised by the church I am part of and with serious damaging consequences. And I stay. Perhaps you could say that I have given unity priority over my integrity.

    The way I see it, I have maintained my integrity by working within the rules of the church, year after year, to change the stand of the church. And this is certainly available now to those who think differently from me as an alternative to leaving.

    I cannot speak for the Reformers of the past. Choices were made back then and we inherited them. I know they did try to work within the rules of the church. Also many were kicked out of the church so that separation was not their choice but the choice of the hierarchy. That is not a consideration at this moment.

    So those are my thoughts, Silva. THANKS for provoking them and I cherish your response.

    Peace, Janet

  • Thomas Fultz, Elder on February 19, 2013

    I understand LGBT advocates in the PC(USA) are constructing a novel suggestion to address same-gender marriage within the PC(USA). Unfortunately, the suggestion, made in the name of pastoral care, in essence only works by allowing Teaching Elders to trump Scripture and the PC(USA) Constitution. Both restrict marriage in ways advocacy groups such as the Covenant Network find to be out of step with what they call “the normative view of current society”. Their conclusion is there must be space within the denomination to allow for individual pastoral decisions that turn away from what the inappropriate but dominate view within the PC(USA). In making that case, there are secifics of a historic/orthodox view of marriage as called for in the PC(USA) Constitution in juxtaposition to the justice-love approach which was rejected by a 95% vote at GA in 1991.

    From that understanding of the context, I ask questions such as is marriage “not intended to be a life-long covenanted relationship?”

    Monogamy is often mentioned ad lacking in heteroseual marriage today and as demonstrated by God’s people in the Bible. So the question rises whether monogamy is a reasonable expectation of covenanted relationships blessed within the worship of a PC(USA) congregation. It seems a valid one to address in the context of the suggested “pastoral care” approach.

    One answer I hear is that our present day embrace of monogamy and sexual fidelity should not be discarded, so long as we identify the need to recognize the limitations of arguments based solely on biblical authority to defend those principles.

    This is where I depart from that approach: on the authority of Scripture. For after 30 years as an Elder, I conclude there are ways to interpret Scripture that do not conform to God’s intention; and one way for that to occur is to minimize Scripture’s role in the faith and life of individual Christians and corporately for Christian denominations.

    While I do concur that discussion of marriage should engage a multitude of disciplines and concerns; I rely on Scripture to frame the discussion.
    As I have reviewed the situation, I arrive at the place of the 2010 Minority Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage. They are on target!

    I find offensive the advocacy of an aproach of finding “Space”. That purposely ignores the same-gender marriage issues of social justice and the authority of Scripture. There is no simple way to reframe the debate from the definition of marriage and the remediation of injustice to a debate on which there is broad and historic consensus. The PC(USA) is locked into those debating points.

    The suggested approach ignores two of the Great Ends of the Church (preservation of the truth and social justice) in favor of a “political” solution. It appears to be an approach where the ends justify the possible means.
    My deep concern – by accomplishing any change that way, the PC(USA) will experience the very fracture which the suggestion seeks to avoid. The fracture will be as extreme a degree that what remains of the denomination is left self-absorbed and defensive, unable corporately to achieve any of the Great Ends of the Church.

  • Janet Edwards on February 24, 2013

    Dear Thomas Fultz,

    You take up a very serious concern before the PCUSA right now: the expansion of our understanding of marriage to include two men or two women who feel called by God to commit themselves to the loving, life-long covenant of marriage with each other.

    At the start, I want to agree with you wholeheartedly that the last thing we want the PCUSA to be is “self-absorbed and defensive.” We may have different conclusions about how to save our church from failure to be God’s people. We are completely agreed on our prayer that God spare us that end. I share a few thoughts in response to yours, hoping to prompt further discernment among us.

    For one thing, pastoral care for LGBT Presbyterians who want to be married by their pastor in their home church (some in states where their marriage is the law of the land) is one primary consideration for seriously listening to the Holy Spirit leading us to expand our definition of marriage. As I understand it, pastoral care was what led the church to reinterpret Scripture to allow remarriage after divorce (expanding marriage to those who had been divorced). This is one way to understand what we are doing now.

    However, I suggest that interpretation of Scripture can come first. When Nancy and Brenda asked me in 2003 to preside at their wedding, they allowed me as long as I needed to study Scripture, church history and polity before I answered them. The fruit of that study is in the brief for my defense before the Pittsburgh Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission, which you can access by searching for The Apologia on this website. There are some events that happened after this was written that are not considered there. Still I hope it proves to you that what we are doing in the PCUSA is only the most recent experience of “reformed, always reforming.”

    Most of all, I hope you see how this expansion of marriage arises from our own serious Christian faithfulness, not from “the normative view of current society.” God may be using current civil legal change to pull some in the church along but it can also be that the seeds for present growth of our understanding of marriage have been in our tradition all along. And that growing in this way is to be vibrantly live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

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