The headline is a quote from a Presbyterian frustrated with what feels like an interminable elitist obsession with sex and an equally grievous lack of passion for the proclamation of the saving Gospel to a lost and dying world.
I spent three days in Memphis last week at an event where Presbyterians were mobilizing to join the movement of God to unreached people groups. It was spiritually refreshing and a good reset following coverage of a Presbyterian gay marriage advocacy event just two week before.
The spirit is genuinely different in these two “Presbyterian” worlds.
Both have a laser-beam like focus, but they are aimed in opposite directions. Both are “evangelical” by their own definitions of that word, but the “good news” they are proclaiming is markedly distinct.
One group of Presbyterians is preparing political strategies to achieve an anti-holy goal in redefining marriage. They seek to convert the existing church to their worldview. The other group of Presbyterians is preparing missional strategies to achieve the Great Commission. They seek the conversion of the lost to faith in Jesus that the Church might be planted in hearts and places where it does not yet exist.
My experience of these two Presbyterian events could not have been more different. Both groups not only operate under the description “Presbyterian,” they also both perceive themselves to be doing “God’s will.”
So, who’s right? Who’s on the mission of God and who’s off the mark?
- Whose message aligns with God’s revealed Word?
- Whose lifestyle aligns with God’s revealed will?
- Whose ministry aligns with the Great Commission?
As one friend observed, “Carmen, people are going to hell while you’re playing around in ivory-tower Presbyterian politics.”
The accusation betrays the worldview of the accuser: He believes there is a hell, he believes that some are currently headed to hell, and he believes that eternal destination can yet be influenced by Christians going into the world to share the hope of a different destiny.
The very notion of an eternal destination apart from God may well be the primary dividing line between the two groups of Presbyterians with whom I have spent the last couple of weeks.
If you do not genuinely believe in the reality of a holy, sovereign, eternal God before whom you will one day stand and who alone determines your eternal destiny, then introducing others to His Son, the only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, is not your first concern. Nor do you have great concern for the Spirit’s active work of aligning your life with God’s perfect will as revealed in His Word if your actions in this life are not subject to holy judgment.
Different emphasis or different faith?
It has been suggested that it’s merely a difference of emphasis, not a difference in the faith being practiced. But it’s an over-simplification to say that one group takes the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor seriously while the other group takes the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations seriously. We are called to both/and not either/or.
You cannot reach people with a love you have not experienced and you cannot invite people into a relationship with a God you do not really know.
Therein lies the crux of the matter.
Yes, I know some will hear these observations as judgmental. But is it not a spiritual judgment to observe that some are saved and some are lost? And is that not a judgment that Jesus makes clear (Matthew 24)?
Is it not then a reasonable judgment call to say that there is a discernible difference between a life lived in Christ, with God, and a life lived in sin, apart from God? And even as the first order calling of each Christian is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, is not the first order calling of the Church the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind? Does that calling not imply that some are yet in need of salvation? Is that not a judgment?
We know all this because we have been told by someone whom God sent.
Romans 10:13-15 (ESV) reads,
“For ’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
These are the questions being asked and answered by Presbyterians who are going to the places where no expression of the Church yet exists and where the existing Church isn’t going. Are they also the questions being asked and answered by other Presbyterians?
I do not doubt that both groups of Presbyterians perceive themselves to have a heart for the unchurched. Both believe they are opening doors so people can encounter Jesus. The difference may be captured in how people interpret John 8:2-11 and what they take away from verse 11.
2 At dawn He (Jesus) appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. 7 When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
What does it mean to deal with the person and not just “such women?”
What does it mean to deal with the reality that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and so no one but Jesus stands in a position to “condemn” sin?
What does it mean to be forgiven and then to “leave your life of sin” as the Lord instructs?
The challenge it seems is that some Presbyterians are calling people out of sin, and some are denying that sin is sin at all. No wonder the world is confused by our witness.