Monday, October 8, 2007

On Being a Presbyterian

A good friend (a companion from of old, from my previous life as a Pentecostal) recently asked me why I count myself a Presbyterian these days:

In one of your past blogs I noticed a reference to your switch to the Presbyterian Church and it made me wonder about that switch. Did you switch for theology or for social issues (i.e. the people here are so friendly and the hot super model pastor preaches in the nude)? Yes I know that's a little silly, but you get my point. I'd like to hear, if it was for theology, what that theology was; and if your comparison was made against the A/G or against all other denominations.

I can assure anyone listening of one thing: it wasn't because our pastor is super-hot and preaches in the nude. Charlie's a great guy, but I have no more desire to see him in the nude than I have to see Newt Gingrich dancing the tango with a g-string and a flower in his teeth.

I ended up going the Presbyterian direction for a variety of reasons, none of them fully persuasive in and of themselves. Of all the different aspects of Presbyterianism, I like the following things in descending order: (1) their roots in the Reformed tradition; (2) their liturgical style; (3) their polity; and (4) their contemporary theological direction. Or to put it another way: I like the first two, and am not terribly keen on the others.

  1. I'm broadly sympathetic with Reformed theology, in that I think Calvinism systematizes Biblical revelation about as well as any system can be expected to, and Presbyterians are the most accessible modern incarnation of that tradition.
  2. I also like how Presbyterians worship: they're flexible enough to sing choruses when it's appropriate (which isn't terribly often, in my opinion), and hymns the rest of the time; they can raise their hands in worship and speak in tongues (our pastor does), or stick with the ancient liturgical traditions. I like a church that's flexible enough to mix all of those things together.
  3. I don't really care for Presbyterian church governance. It's exactly what you'd expect from a denomination that has accumulated 500 years of making mistakes, and is determined to prevent any of them from ever happening again. The result is a church that's less interesting in getting something done than in making sure nobody screws up along the way. If this were a SAT question, it would be: Presbyterians are to Pentecostals as government is to private enterprise.
  4. I'm not real excited about the directions that Presbyterian theology has taken the last 20 years or so. When you have Presbyterian position papers coming out that advocate "Mother/Womb/Child" as reasonable Trinitarian language, something has gone badly wrong. Even the Presbyterian emphasis on social justice, which I admire, may have as much to do with following cultural trends towards political correctness, as with a genuinely Christocentric desire to work out the Gospel in practice.

In summary, I've actually come to think of the differences between denominations as being less and less important lately. Or rather: I wish that Christians were more interested in arguing about their differences, and slower to get angry about them. No denomination is perfect, and if Galena and I were to move, we'd certainly consider churches from other denominations as well. But we'd probably try out the Presbyterian churches in our new neighborhood first.

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