Monday, May 5, 2008

Presbyterian History

Every Wednesday night at my church, we have supper and then some sort of program. The topics vary. The adult group just finished a bible study of James and we've now started a few weeks on Presbyterian history. A friend of mine is teaching the course and doing a pretty good job. As part of his description of the history of Presbyterianism in the United States, he passed out the chart above. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart if you want it.
It just makes me sad to look at. The night before he died, Jesus prayed that his followers be one and this is how much of a mess we've made of the one small branch of Christians known as Presbyterians in just the US.
I found the ensuing discussion fascinating. Almost no one had any idea what most of these past disputes were even about. We're separated and practically nobody evens remembers why. When my friend who is teaching the course tried to back up a little and discuss Calvinism, he got even more blank stares. And believe it or not, we're a fairly well educated congregation. Doctors, lawyers, professional folks. And yet, only a few had even the most rudimentary grasp of why we are even Presbyterians. A woman I know insisted that there was no real difference between Presbyterians and Methodists except saying debts versus trespasses in the Lord's Prayer and whether you come up front for Communion or stay in your seat. Of course, considering the fuzziness of the theology in a lot of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations, maybe there isn't a lot of practical difference for folks in the pews beyond style of worship. (I know that there are obviously big differences in church government, but I'm discussing the differences for your average Joe or Jane in the pew.)
Here's what gets me: Jesus prayed that we be one. But we're not and most of us can't even give a good reason why we're not. One day I'd like to hear a sermon take on that question.

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