What happened to the Presbyterian Church USA?
This week the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, approved an ammendment to their constitution to redefine marriage as "a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a women, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives." The church had voted to adopt this change at last years General Assembly, but it still needed to be endorsed by a majority of the regional presbyteries to become law - a majority which became a reality this week.
While many are shocked to see a so called Christian church voting to overturn the clear teaching of Scripture to accomodate our culture, we shouldn't be. The only really surprising part about this is the speed in which it happened. After all, as recently as 2004 the General Assembly of the PCUSA voted to retain a prohibition against "unrepentant homosexual practice." In just the short span of one decade, then, the church has completely flipped on this issue. So while the speed in which this revolution has occured is indeed surprising, I repeat that the revolution itself should not surprise us at all. Why not? Because there is a deeper problem within the PCUSA (and most other mainline denominations) than merely their capitulation on the specific issue of homosexuality. The decision to redefine marriage is a symptom of a much bigger disease. Lurking beneath it is nothing less than the outright rejection of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture to guide the church and the lives of Christians today.
Space prevents me from unpacking the lengthy history of the rejection of Biblical authority in the Presbyterian Church (which began in late 19th century), but we need look no farther back than 2014 to see how the loss of Biblical authority is the root cause of what ails the church. When the PCUSA General assembly voted to make the change last year, the assembly also issued a pastoral letter to all of the churches in the denomination, in which it stated the following:
"Both decisions (redefining marriage) came with much thought, discussion and prayer...Please know that the same triune God in whom we place our hope, faith and trust in is still in control, and that the Assembly’s action today is the result of deep discernment to hear God’s voice and discern God’s will."
What is particularly relevant here is the last statement - that the vote to redefine marriage was the result of "deep discernment to hear God's voice." What is painfully obvious is that the voice and will of God which they sought so deeply was NOT God's voice and will as articulated in Scripture. The Bible, however much lip service may be given to it, is clearly not considered to be sufficient or authoritative. And whenever we leave Scripture and begin to seek to discern and hear God's voice outside of it, it's only a matter of time before the "voice" that we hear begins to sound an awful lot like the culture that we live in.
Is there hope for the PCUSA? Honestly, I doubt it. It does encourage me that several presbyteries rejected the change to the BCO, and that there is a renewal group calling for change within the denomination. But unless they are able to change the deeper issue, which is the rejection of God's word as both sufficient and authoritative, then even if they somehow could "undo" this marriage ammendment, it would be the equivalent of giving a small bandaid to someone who had an open, gushing wound that needed surgery.
Jesus called on the church in Ephesus to "Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works yo udid at first. If not I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Rev 2:5). Anytime there is genuine repentance there is hope for change. But how can there be true repentance unless there is admission of sin? And how can a church admit sin if it does not acknoweldge the authority of God speaking in his Word to condemn sin? This is the dillemma the PCUSA finds itself in. I hope that the denomination will heed the warning of the risen Jesus before their lampstand is removed, but perhaps it already has been.