Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook magazine and a strong advocate for holding together the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told those gathered for the Presbyterian Communicators Network luncheon under the Big Tent Aug. 2 that it’s time for the PC(USA) to retune, respond and re-present itself.
Using the metaphor of radio stations, Haberer said Presbyterians are divided among five frequencies ― confessionalists, devotionalists, ecclesiasts, altruists and activists ― and that each frequency is a “faithful, albeit partial, expression of the Christian faith.”
He said, “The mindsets are known to clash with one another, yet when working together, a beautiful thing can emerge.”
Those who are calling for departure from the PC(USA), Haberer said, are doing so on confessionalist grounds. “They believe … that faithful reading of scripture and faithful theology are critical to being faithful followers of Jesus Christ.”
And those who are followers of the other frequencies should not ignore the confessionalists. “You must listen to them (confessionalists) on their frequency,” Haberer said. “(The) first and most important thing is to listen. … Seek them out, beginning this Monday.”
Second, he said, Presbyterians need to respond to the concerns of the confessionalist congregations ― the authority of scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus and the expression of sexual intimacy.
Responding to the often repeated claim that the PC(USA) denies the inerrancy of scripture, Haberer said, “The very term ‘inerrancy’ is a modern invention” developed in response to the empiricist that truth can only be proved by scientific method.
Leading into a quotation from the Apostle Paul, Haberer pointed out that Presbyterians “said then and still say now” that all scripture is inspired by God-breathed, inspired by God.
“We wouldn’t argue about it,” he said, “if we didn’t take it so seriously.”
To respond to those who claim that the PC(USA) no longer sees Jesus as the only way to salvation, Haberer spoke of God’s immeasurable grace and mercy. “I don’t think Jesus came to earth to make it easier to send people to hell,” he said.
He pointed to “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” ― a document issued by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship, adopted by the General Assembly in 2001 with 98 percent of the vote and reconsidered and passed with 99 percent in favor in 2002 ― that states that determining who is and who is not worthy of salvation is “not ours to determine.”
When it came to sexuality, Haberer did not rehash the debate, but pointed out that ordaining bodies still choose and examine their candidates for ministry guided by scripture and the confessions.
Third, Haberer said the PC(USA) needs to re-present what it is that makes it distinctive. He described the PC(USA) using four metaphors ― that of a university, a hospital, a supermarket and an open book.
Like a university, Haberer said, “We’re always ready to reconsider past ideas and current assumptions.” As a hospital, the church is a “diagnosing and treating hospital for sinners.” Like a supermarket, churches in the PC(USA) exhibit “minimal uniformity,” offering options for innovation, creativity and originality.
And as an open book, the PC(USA) allows itself to be analyzed in public. While that may lead, at times, to embarrassment, it also offers an appealing element to the millennial generation – that of authenticity. “There is no thing that rises to the top of their list like authenticity,” he said.
In the end, Haberer expressed confidence in the survival of the church, “built upon the rock that is Jesus Christ.”
The Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of the PC(USA) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.