Trouble In River City (PCUSA)

It is a long story but even after I came back to The Church I have retained ties with the Presbyterian church here in my town. This has made me aware of the changes in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). These changes lead to yesterday’s vote by one of the larger congregations in the PCUSA to leave the PCUSA and join a NEW Presbyterian denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO) of Presbyterians.

I am starting this tread not to discuss the changes within the PCUSA or the decision by the congregation to leave the PCUSA but to discuss how the PCUSA decides matters of Faith and Morals. It is my understanding that the General Assembly (GA) is the governing body of the PCUSA. That the GA is made up of commissioners elect by the presbyterias, half being ministers, the other half elders. To my knowledge, there is no requirement for the elders to have any theological knowledge. I would hope the ministers have some theological training. It is also my understanding that at the meeting of the GA the commissioners are “attacked” by “lobbyists” trying to get the commissioners to vote their way. And that little or no theological arguements are presented to defend or oppose matters up for vote. Sound alot like how Congress make laws and you see where that got us.

Just seems not the way to decide matters of Faith and Morals.

I think Presbyterian elders have to know the book of confessions to be ordiained. That is some education.

I agree that just voting in convention is not the way to do it, there is much politics involved.

Presbyterians have have splitting for many years, there are many Pres… sects. Some object to musical instruments in worship and others sing nothing but the psalter.

Ultimately, what it boils down to is that like the other mainline denominations, the PCUSA was infected with liberal theology throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s. As a result, they long ago ceased from being in submission to any of the dictates in Scripture, because they do not believe that Scripture is fully ordained with divine authority.

As a result of this, they no longer hold to what the Westminster Standards confesses is the teaching of Scripture (in fact, the PCUSA radically altered the wording of the Standards themselves). These changes are what caused the Orthodox Pres. Church, the Bible Pres Church, and later the Pres. Church in America to bolt from the PCUSA. It’s a body without any theological grounding, so it will never resolve anything theologically. Rather, since liberalism deifies the social sphere of Christian thinking, it engages in sociology, not theology.

If you haven’t, I would recommend reading Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen (founder of the OPC).

My kids attend a summer camp at a nearby Presbyterian church, and that one already broke off from the PCUSA about a year or two ago. I guess they’d finally had it with all the changes and liberalism.

I don’t know about the PC USA, but the Church of Scotland tends to just decide EVERYTHING by vote, only skimming over the Westminster “statutes” “confession”, same goes for the PC Canada.

Well it’s not polite to gloat over the misfortunes of others, but isn’t this just Exhibit 38,025 of how unworkable Sola Scriptura is as a method of maintaining doctrinal coherence and fidelity? We had one bad seemingly incurable schism in the first 1,400 years of christianity and thousands of them in the last 500 years. Isn’t that a clue that maybe something went seriously awry around 500 years ago?

I think Sola Scriptura has proved itself wrong in more than one of those ways - currently there are thousands of each and every different type of Protestant denominations all believing and teaching different things.

It would help your case if the PCUSA actually believed in the Scriptura part of Sola Scriptura. It is their rejection of Scriptura that is the problem.

My bad. I wasn’t aware that they’d formally repudiated the authority of Scripture. Are you sure this is true, or are you just criticizing their faulty interpretation of it? Because if it’s the latter, they likely say the same thing about you with full sincerity, right?

The PCUSA long ago adopted the higher critical method of biblical interpretation. They would say that Scripture “contains” the word of God. Usually this means that they will look at a lot of texts and say that “this is not specifically God’s word because it is shaped by culture, gender biases, personal opinions of the authors,” etc. That is how they justify homosexuality. “This isn’t God’s opinion. It’s Moses or Paul’s opinion.” Really, for mainline denominations (PCUSA, ELCA, UMC, UCC, ECUSA, etc.), they are not even functionally Protestant anymore, because they abandoned any kind of distinctiveness beyond social and theological liberalism. There are some good parishes left in those communions, but most of the good ones have left and joined orthodox traditions.

I agree with your conclusion that they’ve functionally abandoned Scripture (and Tradition) in favor of a wobbly lens that allows them to ignore things they’d like to ignore.

The problem is that THEY still fully believe (sincerely probably) that they are living out the intent of the message God conveyed in Scripture.

Good for you that you haven’t fallen for the rationalizing, but is that because you figured it out yourself or was it because you had good teachers? If the latter, even you aren’t practicing strict SOLA Scriptura, are you? :wink:

This was discussed at length over in the Authority and Protestantism thread. Lutherans do not define sola scriptura in the terms that many Catholics assume is the standard evangelical understanding of the concept. In simple terms, for most evangelicals, sola scriptura is a positive concept (“we only believe what is in Scripture”). For Lutherans, it is a negative concept (“we reject those things which contradict the Scriptures”).

Fascinating! I think, in the same light, one might say the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches are also “Sola Scriptura”!

Nonetheless, how can you be sure a writing is at odds with Scripture when even Scripture itself can be interpreted in any number of ways? Scripture seems to need a context (i.e, history) before it can be interpreted correctly. Otherwise, any extrabiblical book could be called “contradictory to Scripture”.

The latter includes the former, does it not? That it is to say, the definition used by “most evangelicals” does not “contradict Scripture”, does it? One could conceivably adhere to both of these definitions, and simply chose one in certain circumstances, and another in different ones. This nuance, I don’t believe, really affects the core of what you were originally responding to.

Being that we hold that the early church operated under the premise that Scripture served that same negative function for both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (well, the Catholic Church, before the schism), it isn’t too far from the truth. Remember that Lutheran reformers operated and held their view in a very specific context of the Church of the middle ages. Their forcefulness in asserting sola scriptura was in response to what they perceived were abuses to both Scripture and apostolic tradition. That is, they believed the clergy of their day were practicing doctrine that contradicted the Scriptures. It would be a mistake to apply their position to Roman teaching throughout all of church history.

Nonetheless, how can you be sure a writing is at odds with Scripture when even Scripture itself can be interpreted in any number of ways? Scripture seems to need a context (i.e, history) before it can be interpreted correctly. Otherwise, any extrabiblical book could be called “contradictory to Scripture”.

That is where the regula fidei of tradition enters into the picture. The patristic period gives us the lens in which the context of scriptural interpretation takes place in.

I don’t think they are the same because the former does not allow for freedom of belief in those things which are a part of tradition, but may not be articles of faith. The latter does. A good example would be Mary’s perpetual virginity, or the assumption. Both have varying degrees of belief in the form of tradition that passed throughout the church. Yet Scripture does not explicitly teach either. In evangelicalism, any one holding to these views would be castigated as heterodox or worse. Not so in Lutheranism, because neither contradict the Scriptures, so it allows for the option of holding such pious viewpoints if an individual Christian’s conscience compels him or her to.

More and more interesting. Then where, when and why do Lutherans draw the line between early church leaders who serve as a useful “lens” through which to view Scripture and later church leader’s whose authoritative teachings are disregarded?

Catholic teaching, of course says that this authority never ceased, but it seems Lutherans must have drawn a line through history at some point, no? When and why there? At what point did the leadership that was good enough to sort divinely inspired letters and epistles from non-inspired ones become not enough even for their interpretation?

I appreciate the comparative lessons.

Sure. It is not a question of authority having ceased. There’s no question that the bishop of Rome, at the time of the Reformation, had authority as a bishop. However, Lutherans hold that what was being taught at the time was not in line with what the church had previously held to in many areas of doctrine. Therefore, he had no authority to enforce it upon the churches.

Why not go PCA? Just curious.

Inevitably in these sad stories the flaws of sola scriptures is brought up - with good reason. But I wonder between the concept of sola scripture and man’s fallen nature taking its fullest expression in pride, what percentage is the inherent weakness in SS causing all the splits and drama and what part is it man’s pride causing problem IE saying no we don’t need 1 conservative Presbyterian Denomination we need say 5. I would think the splitting/drama would be lessoned (not erased) if people left their ego at the door.

This is just me ‘thinking out loud’ so hope it makes sense:)

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