The United Presbyterian Church faced, this past summer, a question concerning the deity of Jesus. One of their ministers refused to say that Christ is God. After heated debate, the UPCUSA adopted a resolution which seems to be very orthodox and Scriptural—but when some would insert important and clarifying words to this resolution, the Assembly turned that down. The whole action indicates the apostasy within the churches today. The Presbyterian Journal,June 10, 1981, reports on the General Assembly:
One question above all others tantalized commissioners to both the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) and that of the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS), meeting concurrently (at Houston): Would the United Presbyterians defuse a potentially explosive situation by agreeing to say that a declaration of the full deity of Jesus Christ is required of officers in the church?
The issue developed out of the contest over the Rev. Mansfield M. Kaseman—a minister who refused to say that Christ is God….
And one of the church’s honored historians, the Rev. John H. Gerstner, had flatly declared that if the Assembly did not take a firm position on the matter, the church could legitimately be declared apostate.
At the appointed hour, the commissioners were tense and the press tables packed. After brief but intense debate, the court adopted, with only two dissenting votes, a pastoral statement which said to United Presbyterians:
“We believe that God came to redeem this world of lost children, and to open the way to eternal life, through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…one with us in our common humanity (and) one with God as the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, we confess that Jesus is one person, truly God and truly human….”
One would think that the statement was very orthodox and would firmly establish the Reformed character of the Presbyterian Church. However, at the same meeting, one minister tried to add three words to the statement by way of amendment. But the three words were rejected.
When the issue came to the floor, the Rev. M. Dudley Rose of North Sewickley, Pa., offered an amendment in behalf of a group of mostly younger ministers who call themselves Concerned United Presbyterians. The debate which ensued, in the opinion of many observers, said more about the church’s answer to the question than the subsequent final vote.
Mr. Rose’s amendment would have added three words to the positional statement: sinless, atoning and bodily—so that the line would have read, “…through the birth, sinless life, atoning death and bodily resurrection… .”
Said Mr. Rose, “These truths are mandated by Scripture and appropriate to our confessional position.”
So then, why reject the amendment? Some of the explanations are extremely disturbing:
. . . “These words can produce divisions among us,” said (Rev. William P. Showalter, chairman).
“I urge you to respect the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit as He led us to omit these words from the statement,” he added.
. . . “There is a silent majority in our churches who do not want specific theories. These persons do not believe they are saved by words, but by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Let’s not use doctrine in such a way as to exclude people.”
His statement was greeted by applause.
The Rev. Lance L.M. Brown of Purcellville, Va., said: “Our unity proceeds from Christ and not from words or phrases. The proposed language presents just one of a variety of images through which we may affirm what we believe about Christ. He is the Bread of life. Some of us like whole wheat, some like rye, some like pumpernickle. But all are nourished by bread.”
A senior at Princeton Seminary wound up the debate: “We have been called to struggle with our faith. If we accept these words, I will be told what to believe and no longer will be permitted to struggle with my faith.”
The vote was about four to one against saying that Christ’s life was sinless, His death atoning and His resurrection bodily.
What does one say of a church which refuses to add these significant words? Can a faithful church truly regard such words as divisive? Though one might argue that the words did not alter the statement on Christ’s deity, refusing to add the words indicates the sad spiritual state of the church. What godly saint would question the truth involved in the addition of the words? All this shows up again the subtilty of heresy. Confessions can be adopted that sound very Reformed and Scriptural— omission of key words can allow for wide variety of views. In this case, all are ready to concede that Christ lived—but are not ready to say that His life was sinless. All would concede that He died— but not that this death atoned. All would agree that he arose—but not necessarily bodily. Beware the cleverness of heresy!