A house divided

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.

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3 thoughts on “A house divided

  1. I certainly hear your pain and am keeping you and all involved in prayer. In particular your 4th paragraph resonates with me. That the Union cannot be strong in the face of certain divisions causes me to ponder when it is better to love one another from a different logo. Do we not celebrate the Baptist witness as part of the union of the body of Christ while still acknowledging theological differences? We are stronger for remembering the Union stretches beyond denomination. Is this not true demonstration of the principles you mention from the Book of Order? We acknowledge that God is the Lord of conscience for those in other denominations, we mutually forbear, and we acknowledge that their leaders seek and represent the will of Christ. All of this leads me to the larger questions to ponder.

    1) Does God see the Body of Christ as larger than any one denomination such that He could call people to another logo while not seeing that as removing themselves from the Body of Christ?

    2) Are leaders free and able to discern in good faith and follow such a call from God to witness from another denomination?

    Of course there is plenty of room to debate the various issues that stem from self determination of association only being a civil right given to a congregation that is required in our Book of Order to be both an ecclesiastical and a civil body but for me I continue wonder at what point we should bless those we differ from that we might be greater than the sum of our parts, pray for them as Scripture would have us, and look to the greater unity of a God that is bigger than denomination.

    For sure it is a difficult road for many on all sides of more than one issue. No comfort of black and white is available but the discomfort of a palette of greys, which will most assuredly require grace to cover.

    • Well written piece. I would hope that the PC (USA) finds room in their hearts to love and respect those of us that want to remain Presbyterian yet disaffiliate from PC (USA). May God be glorified in all things and his will be done.

      • Roger, I appreciate your comment and respect the concern that the PCUSA be loving toward those who wish to leave. I am troubled when those who desire to leave use falsehood to generate anger among people leading them to believe the PCUSA is evil or apostate.

        A loving attitude on the part of both sides is needed if we are to truly have “gracious” dismissals.

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