Friday, March 07, 2014

politics, or theology?

There's lots of chatter this week about Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, which just voted to leave the PCUSA and go to ECO. The vote was overwhelming (93% in favor of leaving). Paired with last week's news that First Presbyterian in Houston's vote to leave failed by 36 votes, it's an interesting study in denominational politics.

Of course, the way MPPC is spinning it is as about theology, not polity. And they are entitled to believe that. Especially with quotes like this one:
...citing a 2011 PCUSA survey that suggested 41 percent agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved."
I took that survey. And I am one of the 45 percent that marked that I disagree with that statement. Here's why:

It's un-Reformed.

Because the primary theological principle of the Reformed tradition is the Sovereignty of God. There is no way I was going to mark "strongly agree" on something that said "only followers of Jesus can be saved." Because to say that is to limit God's sovereignty. What if God decides to save someone who is not a follower of Jesus during their earthly life? Or is not a follower of Jesus in the way I think they should be? Can God save them? Absolutely yes. It is not my place as a fallible human being to limit God's power.

Jesus said "I have other sheep not of this fold" (John 10). The confessions say that we are to have "good hope for all" (Second Helvetic Confession, chapter 10). How then could we presume to answer an unequivocal yes to any question that states what God can or cannot do?

So yes, Menlo Park is right that this is a theological break. Because they have decided what God can and cannot do, and that is a break from the historic Reformed tradition. I wish them well as they seek another path. May all of us, whatever path the Spirit places us on, find ourselves daily in the presence of God.

**there are of course a variety of factors involved in this decision, ranging from property ownership to LGBT issues to a desire not to be burdened by other mission foci than their own. But this theological issue is the one they have cited as the heart of the problem, so I have taken them at their word.**


  1. Hear, hear. I haven't read the announcement yet but had heard about it - I appreciate how you frame this. Good stuff, Teri.

  2. Sometimes your brilliance scares me - but in a good way. :)

  3. I have noted that Christians will often proclaims the sovereignty of God and the "wideness of God's mercy" with one hnd while pronouncing hard and fast limits about how God is able to act with the other. Anselmian Substitutionary Atonement for example. I suggest that it is the result of Pharisaical Legalism creeping (or bounding) into the church.

  4. Westminster Confession Chapter XII-3
    Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

    Second Helvetic Confession, 5.006-007
    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God by the preaching of Christ.” At the same time we recognize that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, for that is in his power…

  5. Our sovereign god has revealed himself through his son and elected believers via his son. Sure he could save in other ways but that is not how he has revealed how he does it. I would rather rest upon is clear words of scripture (and the words of those historic confessions you quote) as a clear indicator that his salvation is only in Christ alone. Human speculation is surely not reformed.

  6. Neither is human certainty

  7. Or, for that matter, anonymity