Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.
Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.
There’s been some talk lately about being a “theological affinity group” and there’s likely to be more When people talk about “affinity groups” they usually mean a group that is in agreement about key theological matters (that is, matters the group believes are key) and wishes to form a group together to pursue a common life shaped by those shared affirmations. Many commentators say that it is bad to form such groups, others say that such groups could be helpful within our denomination, the PC(USA). As we discuss all this it is important to bear in mind a truth that is so obvious that it often gets overlooked: the PC(USA) is a theological affinity group. (There are other affinities that define us, but that’s for another day.)
The PC(USA) is a theological affinity group. Actually, we can and should put that in a more personal way: we (the PC(USA)) are a theological affinity group.
The PC(USA) has always required a significant degree of like-mindedness. If you reject infant baptism that may be fine for you, but you’re not one of us, you don’t share our theological affinity. If you reject the ordination of women to church office, you may still be a Christian, but you’re not part of our theological affinity group. If you believe that the church is marked by relationship to your local priest, who is related to the bishop, who is related in a particular way to the Pope, that may be fine for you, but it means you’re not one of us.
So, not surprisingly, affirming theological affinity is one of the central tasks of our denomination’s Constitution. The Book of Confessions, the foundation statement of what constitutes us, is (when taken as a whole) an exclusively PC(USA) document. As the documents in the Book of Order move from past to present they narrow down on our small group within the church, until we get to the Confession of 1967 and the Brief Statement of Faith, which are only decisive confessions for us, the PC(USA). They mark off our affinity group off from all other Christian sisters and brothers, the vast majority of the church.
The Book of Order’s chapter on the Church and its Confessions is an elegant statement of the particular theological affinities that give us our denominational identity. We share some beliefs with “the Church catholic.” We share some beliefs with other Protestants – but Protestants are not all Christians, only a sub-group marked by particular theological affinities. But that doesn’t make us one denomination with them at all. More narrowly, we share some beliefs with other denominations in the Reformed tradition. But not all Protestants are Reformed, only a sub-group, marked by particular theological affinities.
Our ordination questions bear clear witness to our being a theological affinity group. “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do . . .?” Not the essential tenets of the Christian faith – no, “the Reformed faith,” the tenets of our affinity group within the Christian faith. Actually, we narrow things down even more. Congregationalists are as Reformed as we are, but if you firmly believe that congregational polity is the right and faithful polity, sorry – our affinity group affirms presbyterian polity. You’re welcome to stay, but if you do so you’ll have to abide by the polity that suits us. Well, actually, it’s not just any old presbyterian polity. There are other groups in the U.S. that are as presbyterian as we are. We are a sub-group of U.S. Presbyterianism, which is a sub-group of the Reformed tradition, which is a sub-group of Protestantism, with is a sub-group of Christians. [Thus the ordination question quite rightly calls the PC(USA) “our” church – the one formed by our particular affinities.]
The PC(USA) only looks broadly diverse if we leave the vast majority of Christians out of view. The PC(USA) is a theological affinity group. If theological affinity groups are wrong, then the existence of the PC(USA) is wrong.
The thing we differ about is not that some of us reject theological affinity groups and others accept them. To be a PC(USA) Presbyterian is to accept theological affinity groups. The thing we differ about is what makes up the theological affinity that holds us together. What are the shared beliefs and practices that hold us together as a theological affinity group in the great wideness of the church? How many of us do those beliefs and practices really hold together? When do we no longer have enough common understanding of the faith to form one denomination? It’s easier to make things simple: “theological affinity groups are bad.” But as it stands that statement is hypocrisy when it comes from a PC(USA) Presbyterian. It is dishonest. Being honest about who and what we are will be a better way to move forward in Jesus Christ.