Theological Rabies in the Presbyterian Church USA
Francis Schaeffer once said, "Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years."
Schaeffer, a theologian, may have been off by a few years, but he certainly predicted the future of the Presbyterian Church USA, which has now embraced just about every single leftist ideological tenet.
The PCUSA has joined the drift to the Left that for decades has characterized other Main Line entities such as the Episcopal and Methodist churches. But it is a bit of a surprise to see the PCUSA has recently warmly embraced anti-Semitism.
As Mark Tooley reports in the American Spectator, “The PCUSA is now the only major U.S. denomination divesting against Israel, with even the Episcopal Church and far-left United Church of Christ having declined the honor.”
The leadership of the denomination has backed divestment from three firms doing business with Israel. Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola are on the list, supposedly because they assist Israel’s “occupation.”
“A radical Presbyterian study guide, ‘Zionism Unsettled,’ denouncing Israel as an Apartheid state in recent months generated much uproar, especially from Jewish groups. It was thought the backlash against that resource might help defeat anti-Israel divestment, but the opposite may have been true. Commissioners perhaps felt moderate by voting against the extremist study guide while supporting divestment, which supporters naturally insisted was not anti-Israel but merely pro-peace.”
There is a lesson here for those “moderates” in the religious and political world who think they can bargain with and find a middle road on which they can travel with the devilish “pro-peace” Left.
It can’t be done.
But more importantly, there is a lesson to be learned from the PCUSA’s anti-Semitic stance.
Wrong theology sanctioning anti-Semitism especially matters, as the premises reach into secularized politics. Secular politics merely extracts the "God words" and puts the anti-Semitic ideas into practice, as history reveals.
How do some branches of Christian theology endorse anti-Jewish sentiment?
For a very long time, certain segments of the Christian church have embraced what is termed “replacement theology,” also known as “supercessionism.” Replacement theology holds to the idea that Israel’s covenantal status with God was revoked and given instead to the Christian church. Israel is no longer favored by God. Some replacement theologians even endorse the idea that Israel the people and Israel the nation have no more favor before God than any other peoples or nations. Practically speaking, such a stance means that the Jews of Israel have no particular -- including no sacred right -- to the land they presently live in.
As is usual in theological circles, abstruse permutations and varieties of doctrinal views abound. Seminaries are particularly afflicted with endless debates and turgid, ponderous doctoral theses employing almost impenetrable language about fine points of doctrine.
The doctrine of supercessionism is no exception to the academic tendency to obfuscate and divide. The doctrine has been split into three categories, one of which is entitled “punitive supersessionism.” Punitive secessionism states that since Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, they are condemned by God and no longer have the promises of the covenants given to them by God. Jews are not chosen by God any longer.
Martin Luther is probably the most famous supercessionist, though replacement theology was articulated and endorsed by early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and even St. Augustine. Luther, however, was particularly acidic. A punitive supercessionist if ever there was one, he believed the Jews should be severely punished for their unbelief.
In his pamphlet “On the Jews and Their Lies,” Luther went on a hair-raising, incendiary diatribe that gave false spiritual and theological legitimacy for persecution of the Jews. He recommended Germany’s political leaders urge citizens to burn Jews’ schools and synagogues; exile Jews to ghettos; get rid of all Jewish literature; refuse to let rabbis to teach lest they face execution; deny Jews safe-conduct; confiscate all the Jews’ wealth; and have Jews do only forced labor. The miner’s son who became a monk and theologian was so hardened against the Jews that even shortly before his death he was still fuming, “We are at fault for not slaying them.”
It’s a fact that in Luther’s day, politics was religion. The Church was the government, and factions of Christianity were willing to go to war over doctrinal divisions. But as history was to tragically reveal, the reasoning behind replacement theology abstracted from any theological context and put into purely political contexts meant the practice of anti-Semitism by the secular state. To put it another way, most readers of history will recognize the progression of anti-Semitism from what Luther’s friend Phillip Melanchthon called the “rabies of theologians” to the rabies of Nazi ideology.
Wrong theology mattered then. It matters now.
While the Lutheran church has spent literally centuries struggling with their leading theologian’s anti-Semitism; and, to its credit, largely diffusing it or ignoring it altogether, it now appears the PCUSA is fast becoming infected with the anti-Semitic theological rabies of replacement theology.
The PCUSA has rejected the view of God’s grace proclaimed by the Apostle Paul, who believed Christians were only grafted into a vine whose roots were firmly planted in Jewish soil. Paul believed Christians were fortunate to be adopted into the family of believers in God -- and that only through the grace of Jesus Christ, who himself was a Jew.
Evidently most of the leaders of the PCUSA do not read the scriptures they once professed to believe in. Instead, they are baptizing the overt persecution of Jews and the nation of Israel with the poisoned water of toxic theology.
The trashing by the Left of what was once an august American church with many contributions to the culture began when the PCUSA chose to desert the authority of the very scriptures and standards they once professed to believe in. The denomination instead embraced a syncretistic attitude which took as definitive the shifting ideals of the surrounding culture, as Francis Schaeffer noted. The result is that the church has gone with every shifting wind of political change.
The outcome of the constant shifting has meant the PCUSA has now completely embraced leftist tenets, including but not limited to abortion on demand throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy; redefinition of the Christian view of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and the eradication of the distinctions between the sexes. The denomination has even endorsed infanticide, approving a resolution that babies who chance to be born alive during a botched abortion should not be saved.
By adding to that list divestment from the PCUSA’s portfolio companies doing business with Israel, the proclaiming of Israel an apartheid state and the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereignty as a nation, the church has given itself over to the political rabies of the Left.
Is the situation reparable?
But maybe there is hope the denomination will radicalize itself out of existence. As Tooley notes, “In just the last two years, the PCUSA lost nearly 200,000 members, a rate, which if continued, would mean no more PCUSA in less than 20 years.”
Considering the Presbyterian Church USA has gone where no church worthy of the name has ever dared to go, its disappearance might be a good thing.
Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, a flagship institution of the PCUSA. She was awarded the seminary’s prize for excellence in systematic theology. Her articles have appeared in National Review, PJMedia, American Thinker, RealClearReligion and many other online publications. She was selected as one of the Delaware GOP’s “Winning Women,” Class of 2008.