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Barry Ensign-George

Let me start the conversation by giving a shout-out to a blog post by Tod Bolsinger, who is (among many other good things) Moderator of the Middle Governing Body Commission. Tod's blog post is the first in a series in which he will be communicating, in his own words, what the Commission together is learning about us, the PCUSA. In the first post (http://bolsinger.blogs.com/weblog/2011/02/from-the-mgb-comm-observation-deck-1.html) he highlights a broad affirmation that the process by which we arrive at a result is as important as the result. I think there are good theological reasons, and good specifically presbyterian reasons for that, which could amplify Tod's statement of what the Commission is learning. If you've not yet read that blog post, I encourage you to do so!

Viola Larson


This that you have written, "The basis of unity for our denomination must be Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the basis of unity for all Christians. Jesus Christ unites us with Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, the Assemblies of God, the Reformed Church in America, the Friends Meeting, members of non-denominational congregations, and all others - even (dare we acknowledge it?) those Presbyterian groups alongside us, like, say, the Presbyterian Church in America." is so true.
But isn't that just the problem. Many pastors and elders in our denomination do not believe in the same Jesus that all of those together believe in. I could name names. I won't. But some do not even believe in a personal God. Some do not believe Jesus is God, etc. And beliefs about who Jesus is affects everything else.

And part of this is a denial of our book of Confessions. There is no confession in that book that denies the divinity of Jesus. There is none that denies the saving work of Christ on the cross.
I still say we are held together by those who are faithful to the call of Christ to be here and no where else. Maybe you could call that obedience to the Lord. (Some are of course faithful to leave when Christ says go) It isn't property but faithfulness to Jesus Christ that holds this Church together.

Barry Ensign-George


Thanks for your comment. You remind us, the consensus that holds us together has always included some shared affirmations about the nature and identity of God and of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate. Our understanding of who our Lord and Savior is will profoundly shape how we live the Christian faith. Which will shape the kinds of relationship we have with one another - both within this denomination and in the wide church.

John Sheldon


Viola's reflection is almost a truism. Namely, that its well nigh impossible to build consensus within the PCUSA with any degree of integrity, when so many among us so fundamentally disagree about the identity and nature of Jesus Christ. Fromthat basic disagreement flows disagreement on issues like, Scriptural authority, confessions, polity, and even the content of the Gospel. Yes, you are right to say "our understanding of who our Lord and Savior is will profoundly shape how we live the Chrisitan faith." The real question everyone is asking in what's left of our PCUSA is, "is it realistic to try and build consensus?"

Barry Ensign-George


Thanks for your comment.

I'm reticent to apply the word "realistic" to efforts to build consensus. I think it is almost always "worth the effort."

I also believe that our efforts to build consensus can't have pre-determined results. We may find consensus that surprises us. In the very same way, we may discover that we truly do lack consensus - and that our disagreements really do make a difference. Or something in-between.

The affirmation I want to make is that God empowers us to deal with whatever we discover. We (the PCUSA) have found faithful ways to live our unity in Jesus Christ in the face of the disagreements (the points of lack of consensus) that lead us to be a separate denomination from the RCA, the ELCA, the UCC - embodied in our Full Communion agreements with them. I continue to hope that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will be able to live faithfully through whatever we learn about what does or does not hold us together - wherever that leads.

I believe discussion about consensus will happen as we are honest about what we each believe about the nature and identity of Jesus Christ, and related matters. And when we are honest when we think we hear significant disagreements as we listen to one another. Naming these disagreements and exploring them is the work of exploring what consensus we have, might build, or lack. In the same way, we should be ready to explore what agreement we find. I think we should be careful about letting our judgments about what is realistic keep us from such conversations.

Yes, this is hard work. We don't know where it will lead. And it can and should be good, faithful work.

the Rev. Dr. George McIlrath, HR

Great analysis.
Uniter? - -
Quick response: One set of cynics says, "Pension program." Another, "Mission." Another view, "Ordination vows." Another, "Nothing." Others, "We need a little revelation or realignment here."

Barry Ensign-George

Thanks for responding, George.

Interesting thing about things like the pension plan - or property might fall in the same category. As a primary thing that holds us together, such things don't work well. But at a secondary or tertiary level, they are part of the sinews that institutions (like, denominations) build.

That said, perhaps we shouldn't let the cynics dominate the conversation, no?


The embarrassing reality is that our basis for unity in the PC(USA) is the property clause in the Book of Order.

Viola is right, there are such fundamental differences in what our understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished, that frankly true unity is fleeting.

We have pastors that believe Jesus is the only way to salvation; we have pastors who even believe that Jesus existed.

'Tis a mess.


that is *don't* even believe that Jesus existed.

Pastor Bob

In Fiddler on the Roof Tevye is able to reach consensus with two of his daughters: one who marries a tailor and the other who marries a political radical. His third daughter marries a Christian. With her he refuses to even discuss consensus and shuns her.

While I do not approve of shunning people I do believe that there are certain basic believes about which we must not even try to seek consensus. Just a couple of examples: the full divinity and humanity of Jesus and the Trinity. We should love, welcome, talk with and discuss anything with anyone. But we must say that some are simply not Christian, to say nothing of Reformed, if they cannot affirm certain beliefs.

This does not have to be done with anger or rancor. It should be done with love. But it must be done.

Example: why would a Session approve the baptism of an adult who sees no connection between baptism and Jesus?

John Burris

The basis has to be Jesus. Without it, we are lost as a denomination.


we are lost as denomination....

Barry Ensign-George

Calvin, Bob, and John,

Thanks for your responses. The affirmation that God is triune, that God the Second Person is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, that salvation is worked through Jesus - these are key elements of a consensus able to hold us together.

We share these affirmations with sisters and brothers in so many denominations. What other commitments, beliefs, and practices are part of a consensus that will hold us together?

Viola Larson

Barry, I am having trouble with what you just said. "that God the Second Person is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth." That seems to me to split up the two natures of Christ. Isn't Jesus the eternal Son of the Father. Jesus the Christ is the incarnation.

Barry Ensign-George

Viola, No, there was no intention on my part to separate the two natures of Christ. I was pointing to Trinity, Incarnation, Salvation - highlighted by Calvin, Bob, and John as important elements of any consensus that can hold us together as a denomination. I also wanted to point out that these affirmations are shared with sisters and brothers in other denominations. So, as we think through what identifies us as a distinct denomination, there will be more in addition to these affirmations. Hence, my question at the end.

Viola Larson

There are several biblical issues that hold some together and yet are unique to reformed theology, such as our union with Christ, the perseverance of the saints; but then again often those teachings only hold a segment together. So I am not sure. We could say love of mission, but some are missionary minded in only social work so once again there is a problem. I am also interested in what others may suggest.

Paul Ribeiro

The church, which has clear theological reformed convictions, must be in submission to Jesus and in mutual submission to each other. YES, I totally agree. However, my question is: How to be submitted to Jesus Christ if the church does not take the authority of the Scriptures as THE guideline for living, both individually and as Christ's Body?
It is written in Romans 12:1-2: “1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)
Also, Psalm 133 begins: "How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity." It ends with the words "For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore."
My second question: Are we looking for UNITY like Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21: “20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (NASB)

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