Truth and Goodness and Mutual Forbearance are two of our historic principles of church order in the PC(USA) I have not heard talked about during our denominational discernment process at Trinity. And yet they are designed for a time just like this and we should be leaning on them now harder than ever.
The Reverend Dr. Paul Hooker, Director of Ministerial Formation and Advanced Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas spoke about these two historic principles of church order at First Presbyterian Church in Houston, TX in September 2013 saying,
“When we forget that fundamental tension between knowing the truth and being forbearant of one another we begin to lose the center that helps holds us together, and helps us see our way through to the unity we have in Christ.”
Each of the two historic principles are stated below with italicized commentary provided by the Reverend H. Carson Rhyne Jr., general presbyter and stated clerk of the Presbytery of the James and affiliate faculty in Presbyterian polity at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Va.
Truth and Goodness (Book of Order, F-3.0104)
That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
The truth is only of value when it causes a difference in the lives and behavior of persons. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” reminds us that we are not seeking some kind of intellectual or philosophical truth, but a truth that is life-changing and life-giving.
Mutual Forbearance (Book of Order, F-3.0105)
That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.
While people might be seeking this truth, there are “truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ.” Therefore provide mutual forbearance toward each other. In other words, have plenty of room for different points of view as long as everyone is seeking the truth found in Jesus Christ.
Below is a quote and short video segment of Paul’s presentation about these historic principles at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX
“The danger before us as a church is not that somehow or another we have found better missions and we ought to be done with this business of disagreeing about one controversial issue or another so that we can be about the mission of the church. The danger before us friends, is that we will forget to listen to each other, and to learn from each other, and to become thereby the church that Christ has created us to be.”
The Reverend Dr. Jim Currie of First Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, TX has written a document titled, “Some Theological Thoughts on Why Stay in the PC(USA)” in which he writes,
“Even over so profound a difference as the ordination of gays and lesbians, we are family. Why is that issue the breaking point? In his book Ethics Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the Ultimate and the Penultimate. On this issue (and perhaps others) some are acting as if theirs is the ultimate, or final, word. Bonhoeffer reminds us that ours is always and only, at best, the penultimate word. We never, ever, have the final word. That always belongs only to God.
What that means is that the decisions we must make can only be temporary, or penultimate. And that means that, both sides must confess, they might be wrong. “Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, ….” So, with humility we do the best thinking we can, the best arguing we can, the best digging we can, and then we embrace one another … because belonging to each other in Christ is more important than insisting that we are right.”
Living with the tension between Truth and Goodness and Mutual Forbearance is not easy, especially during this particularly disruptive time in our denomination’s history when the tension is not well balanced. Nevertheless, these historic principles are a time tested gift handed down to us over generations in the denomination, and they will continue to serve us well if we will lean on them and trust, that by doing so, we will see through to the unity we have in Christ.
Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)