The PC(USA)’s view of the authority of scripture is being called into question by some in our denomination. Their accusation is the PC(USA) gives higher authority to culture than to the written word of God, and as a result the denomination is moving in a direction against God’s will.
I understand how it can look like this but it’s not true. One of the hallmarks of Reformed Theology which is being overlooked is theology as wisdom. Word and Spirit were the basic and essential factors in John Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture and in his theology. Today the PC(USA) and Reformed Christians still submit to the authority of the written word of God as illumined by the Holy Spirit of God. We don’t submit to the written word of God as defined by a set of clearly defined essential tenets.
The Confession of 1967, in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Confessions states,
“The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel…The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture. God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.”
Paul Rack, Stated Clerk of Elizabeth Presbytery, writes a very thoughtful defense of the PC(USA) in a document he wrote titled, “Apologia Progessiva.” Regarding biblical authority and interpretation he writes, “The case may be made that the PC(USA) is being far more responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit than churches retreating into doctrinal shelters hermetically sealing them away from the present world.” I agree.
So why are some members of our denomination working to protect their understanding of biblical authority with a set of defined essential tenets?
Peter Enns has written an article titled, “Tim Keller on Homosexuality and Biblical Authority: Different Crisis, Same Problem.” It helped me see the road block these members face in a clear light. I recommend the entire article to you but want to quote one section in particular.
“Keller is right. To change their views on homosexuality will require evangelicals to ‘disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority’…Leaving aside the specific issue of homosexuality, Keller’s observation about evangelical notions of biblical authority is correct but also concerning. In my opinion, Keller has, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on the entire problem evangelicals face when confronted with any issue that runs counter to evangelical theology: ‘You’re asking me to read my Bible differently than my tradition has prescribed, and so I can’t go there. If I do, my faith is kicked out the door.'”
Walls are essential when your authority of scripture is based on the written word of God as prescribed by your tradition, but not when it is based on the written word of God illumined by the Holy Spirit.
The promise of our baptism is we have been grafted to the body of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us, that we might have the power to do God’s will, and continue forever in the risen life of Christ.
Let’s #StayPCUSA together.