Why I Stay, Part 1: Jesus Prayed That We May Be One
In my introductory video, I mentioned that even though my views have often not prevailed through the years, I have stayed in my church home, committed to one Lord, one faith, one baptism. During this Eastertide, I want to share with you more of my thoughts on this, particularly, what I see as the biblical basis for us all to work together to be One in Christ.
My membership in the Body of Christ for thirty-five years has been in Pittsburgh Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Through these years, virtually the whole time, my passionately held views of how to love God and love my neighbor have lost in votes on many matters. This has included the discussion and votes on things like standing against nuclear proliferation, as well as many actions recommended by General Assembly.. Time and time again, how I know the Triune God and my interpretation of Scripture have differed from the views of many in my presbytery, with some colleagues in ministry going as far as telling me they consider me a heretic. Given all this, some have asked why in the world I would stay.
So, why do I stay? Honestly, fundamentally, the Bible tells me to.
It all starts for me with this: Jesus prayed to God that we may be one. In the gospel of John, Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one (John 17:20).”
That Jesus so yearns for us to be one makes it utterly impossible for me to entertain the thought of leaving the church family where I came to know Christ and where I have made promises to further our unity. Christ’s plea stops me in my tracks.
When, in due time, I answer to God for the choices I have made in this life, I will not have to repent for letting Jesus’ prayer here go unfulfilled. Jesus suggests in John that the world will know that God sent Him and that God loves the world through our becoming “completely one (John 17:23).” Jesus also indicates that God’s protection of us is bound together with our being one (John 17:11). Clearly there is way more than our unity at stake in our making sure Jesus’ prayer is answered with a “Yes.”
Just recently, a woman, in a comment on a blog post, asked me, “Why should unity have priority when our ancestors in the Reformation broke from the Catholic Church?” She prodded me to remember that at the start the Reformers were mostly excommunicated—booted out—a very different thing from walking away. The Reformers meant to reform the church, not to break it into pieces. This is quite a different dynamic from choosing to leave a church family whose yearning is the same as Jesus: That we may be one.
We are all followers of Jesus and He prays for us to be one. How can we deny Him this? I cannot, so I stay in the church where I landed upon birth and baptism, whose heritage is precious to me, with friends I love. Some I agree with, some I don’t. That is not any where near as important as the choice to abide in the unity of Christ.
None of us had any say over the divisions that came before us in church history, but we do have a say over the unity of our church now. I applaud and pray for the efforts of those in the PCUSA who work for the church to be one by ecumenical outreach in all directions. And I offer my hand of fellowship to all I meet in the church, receiving immeasurable gifts in the Spirit by doing so.
That’s how John 17—Jesus’ prayer that we may be one—inspires me to stay. How does it impact you?
For what reasons do I leave a church and go to another one? I have been wrestling with this a long time.
Thanks for sharing your struggle with us! I am especially grateful that you are trying to think this through faithfully as moving from church to church has become pretty common in our time. There were three moments of congregations leaving the PCUSA in the 20th century and people seem to move from congregation to another congregation regularly.
I very much hope that this reflection upon Jesus prayer that we be one is helpful to you in your wrestling, Susan. And it would be great if you could share some of what you are taking into account as you discern your way.
Because my church membership for 40 years has been with a congregation that is related to 5 Protestant denominations, I don’t feel necessarily as connected to Presbyterians as Janet might. I am now worshiping in more than one church on Sunday mornings because each has a special way of revealing the direction the Holy Spirit is leading
I know I said I wouldn’t post here, but, well, I have to…
Janet, your staying is both admirable and not admirable. Admirable because I know you hope for the best. Not admirable because, from the distance I am at these days, and it is quite a distance, it’s like watching someone who’s in a bad relationship, like watching a battered wife hoping for her husband to change – sometimes the abuse abates and sometimes it comes back and brings her to the brink of death. But the only time she truly wins is when she leaves.
That’s not a very scriptural or spiritual answer, but it is what it is.
From what I’ve experienced in churches, even to the point of being screamed at over the phone by a consistory member/elder, I don’t think I’ll ever return. It’s not a point of being unforgiving on my part. The memories will fade and the wounds will heal. I’ve been able to forgive someone who made my life a living hell a few years ago – but the forgiveness came not from a Christian desire, because I don’t even profess Christianity any more, but from the very simple human compassion a person can have for another in a difficult situation. Churches I’ve seen, professing Christians, don’t even have that.
I guess the last thing I can say that I see from this distance is this: The miracle of salvation, the miracle of an ever-lasting covenant for all who will partake, didn’t come about because Jesus was right. It didn’t come about because he was able to teach the teachers of his day. And it didn’t come about by force or manipulation or politics or even the disciples Jesus called to himself. The miracle of the resurrected Christ and a new covenant is the result of one thing only: Christ’s submission.
The PC(USA) is killing itself fighting a battle that Jesus already won through submission, which he exemplied for his disciples, those he knew would carry on his work, by washing their feet. Can any of those on opposite sides of GLBT inclusion in the PC (USA) submit to the statement “How can I serve you, my brother/sister?” Wouldn’t Jesus?
I did that once in a church and was made a mockery of, run out you might say, and literally screamed at. What I believed afterwards was that I was unwanted by both church and God. Now I just believe: Human frailty, though the cause, is no excuse for those who profess to know Christ. Christianity is not rocket science, or medicine, or economics, or law. It’s love, submission, service, all of which are easily snubbed and corrupted by chossing “I” over “You.”
I apologize ahead of time for what may seem to be a hard message. I wish you well and that inclusion for all comes to fruition.
Jesus wasn’t praying that we would be one with people who don’t believe in Jesus. That means all the presbyterians who don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead do not share in the oneness of the true Church.
Thanks for sharing your very different perspective on what church is and how it works for you!
I am very deeply rooted in the Presbyterian Church I know. There are a few ways in which the conservatism within me comes out and my commitment to the Presbyterian tradition is one of them. It is also important, I think, that I made a promise upon ordination to further the unity of this church, to adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith and to be a faithful minister in the PCUSA. Keeping these promises is very important to me.
And you remind me that there are others perspectives how how to be in the church that are also faithful to Jesus Christ.
Peace be with you, Jean, Janet
It is good to hear from you, Donna, and, as ever, your clarity and honesty are a good challenge to us–Thanks for it.
I am heartened by your saying that my staying in the church is “like” a battered wife. It could be but I would say it is not because I do not feel battered and I do not think my life is threatened. Others may be battered and feel battered and for this the church will answer for its sins. It strikes me that your experience fits with this. Mine does not.
I completely agree with you that Jesus’ submission in sacrificial love is the heart of salvation. And I see you also saying that we are to follow His example in that submission in service. My questions are why is Jesus’ submission not like the battered wife, and how can I be a follower of Jesus and leave the church family I have promised to serve?
I know your response will be thoughtful and helpful. Peace, Janet
Deepest thanks for commenting here! your point is very thought-provoking for me.
My primary question is this: on what do you base the claim that Jesus was only speaking of those who believe in His death for our sins and resurrection from the dead when He prayed that we be one? Where does Jesus specify this? Every member of the PCUSA professes faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Isn’t that what is needed to be in the “one” that is the church?
Jesus in John 17 speaks of “those who will believe in me,” and does not define what that “believe” entails. My approach is to accept the person’s confession of faith in Christ. But you seem to require more. Have I understood you correctly?
I look forward to your further thoughts. Peace, Janet
You did not feel battered after your hearings and trial? If you answer “no,” then you are a liar because of what you shared with me at the time offline. As I wrote, perhaps the abuse abates and it seems things will get better. Perhaps that’s where you are now.
I do not deny you your hope that the church will change. I hope it does and that inclusion for all is the result.
At the Community of Reconciliation, it is certainly the truth that I was battered by all sides. That you recognize this is perhaps an indication of your complicity, whether active or as a silent witness that did nothing to stop it.
For Jesus, his way was the only way, not chosen by him but by the Father, resulting in Salvation for all humanity. Your path is not the same and is geared toward one denomination. There are other ways to serve out your call, just as you relayed to me that there are other seminaries I could attend. The path you choose is the path *you* choose.
I wish you well and here end my participation.
In the hope that you will continue to share your important thoughts with us and, also, to invite others to join in the conversation here, I want to comment on two things you say here.
First, I did feel battered by three years of living with charges against me in church court but there is a difference between “feeling” battered and “being a battered wife” which we know is an image, not a reality. As you say, we choose a path and we also choose how we see things. I choose not to see myself as being like a battered wife in the church as I don’t see it as helpful for me in being part of the body of Christ which is the church.
Second, it is true that I choose the path of ministry I am on. At the same time, I have felt deeply called to this path and this call has been affirmed in many different ways through the years. Our callings in life are a partnership really that includes God, our communities and our own spirits. My choice is only one part of a call.
These are some of my reflections upon yours, Donna. I hope you continue to share yours here.
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