Stretched Harmony

Originally Published May 2015

I love when our choir breaks out into 4 or even 8 part harmony. The mixture of different notes, vowels and meter brings a rich sound. Sometimes the harmony is a simple major chord blend. However, sometimes the harmonies are pushed, tense and don’t resolve so quickly. I appreciate these harmonies too, although it takes some practice to endure them; they’re harmonies that stretch you.

I feel that way about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), our denomination. We are unified in Christ and a theological and ecclesiastical tradition, but that unity is being tested by differences around same-sex marriage and ordination standards. As a few of you know, there are some churches and some of my pastor colleagues and friends who have left the PC(USA). Some people have even asked me if I am considering leaving. I am not. And for three reasons.

Humility. I don’t know all the answers. I am on the more conservative “side” of this denominational conversation. I affirm Bethany’s “Holiness and Leadership Statement” with certain standards for ordained office. Yet I struggle. I could be wrong. I know I have not arrived to complete knowledge. I continue to learn from Bethany members from all positions – and there are numerous positions out there in the pews every Sunday; you have told me. I continue to study Scripture. I read articles and books. I engage voices different from my own. I heard evangelical leader Eugene Peterson say at a pastors conference years ago that he was agnostic on the question of gay Christians and the church. In other words, he didn’t know it all. Do I?

Schism is serious business. Even though I was not in favor of allowing same-sex marriage language into our Book or Order, I am not planning on exiting a denomination which now allows such marriages. A theologian once said that the only reason for schism (breaking from a church) is when a preacher is no longer permitted to preach the gospel. That encumbrance has not occurred, and I don’t see it on the horizon.

Freedom. Pastors and individual churches in the PC(USA) have tremendous freedom from outside control. Our own Seattle Presbytery leadership has been a tremendous support to Bethany in seasons of transition, but for the most part gives local churches freedom to follow Christ as they discern him leading them. In some ways I feel like Bethany in its own worship and fellowship life has echoes of the same freedom. We are not a single melody church. The root bass line of our music together is firm – Christ centered, Bible shaped, Holy Spirit led – but above this is a rich, thick, dense harmony of Christ followers paying attention to what God is doing in the world and in their own lives.

So in case you were wondering, your pastor feels that he can still follow his call to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ right where he is. Whether or not the PCUSA is producing a “perfect harmony,” as Paul states, is up for debate. It is a pushed harmony, yet one with room in it for me to sing to God’s glory.

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