Sitting on the Presbytery Council, I know that there is a reality that some churches have and will continue to leave our denomination. Over the next year or so the San Jose Presbytery may lose a half a dozen or so churches. The reason stated is theological differences, though listening to the discussions the focus is not in an honest dialogue about faith and theology, it tends to be about, money, power, and control on both sides! I have seen this since I was ordained. Often when the theological debates have been raised, they quickly devolve into a quest for who is right, who controls the issues, and ultimately who controls the church.
Hopefully, you picked up on the problem with what I just wrote. The problem is that when we talk about the " who " we are talking about which side, not the Who that is crucial, which is God! Platitudes are often given to " God being in control, " but often that becomes a tool in our desire to have our way or to assert ourselves, even create division. This means that we ultimately work to serve our own interests.
When I think of divisions, I often think of the destruction of the Tower of Babel, when the people were scattered, given new language and separated from each other. As a collective they lost the ability to be a singular community and probably lost a knowledge base as that would have been scattered too. With an incredible loss like that they were forced to create a power structure so that they might compensate for what they did not have and instead of having a society working together for a common goal, they worked to protect their individual interests. Subsequently, wars and struggles for power ensued.
This is not to say that the predestruction time was all-good, that is also not true! They were building the tower out of a corporate unfaithfulness. Being Christian, we are shown a light through the Pentecost story that is a call once again to come together. This time not for the building of a tower to reach God, but to create a community to share the Love of our God who is intimately connected to our world since we now have the ability to speak and come with each other through the shared message and witness of Christ. If we let this happen, we should have been able to overcome our differences and work together for the common goal of Christ.
Nevertheless, that was not going to happen. Almost immediately the new Christ followers fought, split, and asserted power over each other, and the legacy we are left with are churches which genuinely believe that their way is the sole way and that their approach to Christianity is the only approach. This often led to bitter fights. Often tearing each other down. This means that even though they may in the pursuit demonstrating faithfulness, the resulting dissension within churches and a lack of healthy models furthers the atheists claim to the lack of God and creates faithlessness to the greater community.
This makes me wonder where Christianity might be if the evangelical fervor were united with the progressive compassion? Where we entered theological discourse from a place of exploration rather than a place of correctness and certainty, might we be able to witness in a powerful way a love that transcends the message of Christ to a lost and broken world. Might the struggle to find and live into Christ be a model of faithfulness to a world struggling?
As Christians we struggle to know what God wants for us at times. However, one thing we know, whether it is in Leviticus, or Matthew, is that God calls us to love each other, to show compassion, be humble and walk together. I know there is nothing that I can do to change the minds of the churches that feel they must leave our denomination. Nor do I have the ability to change the minds of those who left our church for the same reason. What I can do is ask for guidance, and pray that one-day as we are all going to be united, we realize how much better life can be when we work together and for the common goal of a life in Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen