These are the statutes and ordinances which you shall be careful to do in the land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 12:1 RSV)
There are four basic tenets of the Presbyterian Faith:
1) We are saved through grace alone. We can do nothing to earn this grace. It is a gift from God manifest in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and through his resurrection.
2) We are a priesthood of believers. All of us are capable and have a responsibility to proclaim the word of God to others.
3)The Bible is our authority or 'sola scriptura'. We believe the Bible alone is our foundation of belief. All the catechisms, confessions and creeds are based on the Bible.
And, the fourth is probably the most difficult to grasp and understand. 'God alone is our Lord of conscience.' To me, this is the essence of what it means to be Presbyterian, aside from our polity. This tenet can be viewed in different ways by different people with varying biases.
Historically, the Presbyterian church, as a denomination, and unlike other denominations takes no stand on some of the more controversial social issues of our times: abortion, homosexuality and capital punishment and the numerous issues that go with these. The Presbyterian Church, USA position is: as a denomination there is no position. This does not mean there aren't very vocal and active advocates for both sides. Far from it.
Presbyterians have been advocates of all manner of social issues for many years. For example, Presbyterians were some of the more outspoken advocates of abolition before the Civil War. Our Confessions advocate certain beliefs from the Scots Confession to a Brief Statement of Faith. But, our confessions are not part of our Book of Order. They are separate, quite intentionally.
This can be vexing to many people because they either want someone to tell them what to believe or they want to use a rigid doctrine to have something solid to hang onto for comfort and consistency.
But, the Presbyterian tradition is a little more demanding of our mindful attention to our faith, how we live our faith, how we accept others who do not agree with us and how we accept people into our church family who are 'different'.
In my opinion, if we as a denomination are to proclaim certain behaviors to be abhorrent or sinful we may use that doctrine to exclude certain people from our church family and as a result back ourselves into an inescapable corner. To proclaim certain behaviors as sinful and not acceptable in our circle would be to say we as individuals in the church do NOT sin, or, we say our sins are different and thus less offensive than others. But, isn't sin still sin regardless? We come to this church not to proclaim our holiness or to feel good about ourselves. We come first to worship and glorify our Almighty God, and to truly give thanks to Him, asking Him to forgive our sins of commission and omission, and, to ask Him to suffer our needs, desires and dreams. Who are we to have the power of judgement over others? Let's leave that to God.
To me this is the essence of John Calvin. We as individuals have the freedom to seek God's will for our lives. But, for us to seek God's will for others based on our individual experiences and prejudices appears to be a non-starter. That we have prejudges and biases is inescapable and undeniable. Calvin understood this and asks all believers and even doubters to study the Bible and to educate ourselves and pray for God inspired enlightenment. I refer to this as an objective faith or at least a rational faith where we do not allow our biases to guide our behavior in how we treat and accept others into our communion. So may it be.
Prayer: O God, our God, inspire us to continually seek your way and your path in leading others to be part of your communion, to be part of your family in Christ. Gird us, strengthen us, fortify us to do the things we need to do to, first, to worship you, always, and to represent the people of Sharon Church in a way that pleases you. We pray this in the name of your most Holy Son, our Christ, Jesus. Amen.