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FIRST-PERSON: Is the PC(USA) too PC to tell the truth?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–They consider themselves among the most enlightened Christians of our day. They came to the national convention of the Presbyterian Church (USA), hoping to help their more traditional brethren see the light.

What they did, however, was draw a clearer line between believers who honor the Lord with their minds and those whose minds are set on man’s interests, rather than God’s.

Debate on two issues at the PC(USA)’s 216th General Assembly in Richmond, Va., during the last week of June revealed that Presbyterians are closely divided — and confirmed yet one more time that many of them value feelings more than truth.

Delegates to the General Assembly were asked to freeze funding for Messianic Jewish outreach after the National Council of Synagogues complained that Presbyterian sponsorship of a Messianic congregation in Philadelphia harmed 40 years of efforts to “mend relationships” between Christians and Jews.

National Council of Synagogues spokesman Gilbert Rosenthal called such funding “inappropriate and painful” because the church, Avodat Yisrael, presents itself as a congregation of Jewish people and uses Jewish rituals and objects in worship, according to news reports.

In a compromise, the assembly voted to “re-examine and strengthen” the relationship with Jews but declined 260-233 to suspend funding of Messianic outreach.

The delegates also wrestled with a request to remove the PC(USA)’s two barriers to homosexual ordination. A 1978 “authoritative interpretation” of their constitution says church law does not allow ordaining “unrepentant” homosexuals. A 1997 constitutional amendment says ordination requires candidates to be faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness.

The delegates were offered a compromise that “removed the authority” of the authoritative interpretation and implied that the 1997 action could be left in place because the 1978 measure no longer carried any weight (or because “marriage” may soon include homosexual marriage).

The compromise was defeated 259-255, and Presbyterians instead adopted — by a 297-218 vote — a minority report urging that the status quo be maintained while a PC(USA) task force continues to look for a way to reconcile liberals and conservatives.

Prior to the vote one youthful delegate argued that “taking away the authoritative interpretation will help … by removing outdated stuff that’s not in the Bible or The Book of Order.”

“Outdated stuff that’s not in the Bible?” That’s a marvelous example of the confusion that reigns in many Christian minds and in liberal Presbyterian circles.

One of the most serious problems in churches of all denominations is the idea that clear Bible teachings can be dismissed as merely the backward culture of an earlier era.

But we are no freer of cultural bias than the earlier generations we criticize. Isn’t our own thinking colored by today’s culture, as earlier generations were by theirs? Who are we to dismiss a clear teaching of Scripture as merely “outdated stuff,” on the basis of our own opinion?

Another very serious problem is an appalling illiteracy about what’s actually in the Bible. Too many Christians don’t search the Scriptures for themselves when others tell them what the Bible teaches about a subject. There’s no substitute for actually reading the Bible.

For example, some professing Christians think Scripture is silent on the need to evangelize Jews (or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists). But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

And some professing Christians think Jesus never said anything relevant to the question of homosexuality. But Jesus said God created mankind male and female so husband and wife would become “one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Presbyterians who argued against Jewish evangelism emphasized respect for different beliefs and not hurting other people’s feelings. Those who argued for homosexual ordination emphasized everyone’s “inclusion” in the life of the church. (They only pretend to want inclusion for everyone. Their list of people unjustly denied ordination ignores several other sexual “orientations” — such as pedophiles.)

I’m all for respect. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t want anyone to feel left out. But what do you do when someone has a problem with the truth? Jewish evangelism isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Homosexuality is not an issue on which the Scripture is silent or “outdated.”

There was a moment in Jesus’ ministry when many of His disciples could not accept His teaching. He asked: “Does this cause you to stumble? … No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

And the Scripture records that as a result “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life'” (John 6:66-68 NASB).

Even Simon Peter found it hard to accept Jesus’ teaching at one point. When he declared he would never allow Jesus to be crucified, the Lord spoke plainly: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23 NASB).

What are God’s interests? To be recognized and honored among all peoples for who He is, to hear a humble “thank you” from those to whom He gives life and breath, to draw every repentant soul into His loving embrace, to send His people into a lost world with good news of salvation. What is man’s interest? To live our way, not God’s way — in a word, unrepentant.

Do we ignore Jesus’ claim to be the only path to God for fear of hurting someone’s feelings? Or do we point out that Jewish people don’t cease to be Jewish just because they discover Y’shua (Jesus) is their long-sought Messiah?

Do we dismiss the fact that God’s Word calls homosexual activity a sin (along with greed, envy, malice, gossip, arrogance and a host of other sins)? Or do we tell the truth that a sexual disorder is a wound that needs Jesus’ healing touch?

Do we continue looking for a way to reconcile two contradictory worldviews? Or do we finally admit that believers who honor God’s eternal truth cannot agree with those who think religious and moral truth is a matter of personal or social opinion?

Do feelings matter more to us than truth? Or do we love people enough to tell them the truth and show them how to experience God’s life-changing love and forgiveness for themselves?
Mark Kelly is the author of “Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The end of Christian apologetics,” available only at kainospress.com.

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  • Mark Kelly