The phrase, “a house divided cannot stand” is found in a speech given by Abraham Lincoln in 1857. Lincoln addressed the growing national divide over the issue of slavery. Lincoln’s message is that the entire structure is threatened when division exists.
Last Sunday, the Session of a church in the Presbytery of Boise led a meeting of the congregation in which a vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was taken. These leaders have misled the members of the congregation into believing that their vote severed their relationship with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The vote (73% to 26%) reveals that the congregation is a divided house.
It is quite sad that such events have taken place within a local congregation. It is a greater sadness that the actions within one congregation have had an impact on the presbytery as a whole. The division within one congregation of a presbytery weakens the relationships within the presbytery and among those who have taken vows to work as “colleagues in ministry.”
Lincoln’s speech on a “house divided” does not predict the end of the Union. It affirms that the Union cannot be strong when certain divisions exist. Presbyterian polity acknowledges certain principles found in Chapter 3 of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity contained in the Book of Order. These principles affirm that God is the Lord of the Conscience, the conviction of Mutual Forbearance, and that leaders are to seek to find and represent the Will of Christ. The principles expressed do not prescribe a uniformity of belief or thought. In fact, the richness of the Church is equated by the Apostle Paul with the diversity of the parts of the body. Each part has a specific purpose and function and makes up the entire body and no part can declare itself separate from the body.
A schism exists when there is a tear within an organization. Such a tear exists within this congregation. Its leaders have declared an unconstitutional break with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and have fostered suspicion between members of the church, but a schism does not exist in the presbytery. We are united in our desire to retain this church – with its diversity and its unique function – as a part of the presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and even more so in our desire to care and support those who find themselves living in a house divided.