On Presbyterians and Potato Chips

“And the word of the Lord will be to them:
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
Isaiah 28:13 (ESV)

 The old joke goes:

Roman Catholics open a bag of potato chips and find the Virgin Mary (what a blessing).
Evangelicals open the same bag of chips and find Satan (he’s always lurking around the corner).

After spending time at a gathering of Presbyterians, I have observed the following:

Progressive Presbyterian Scholars open the bag, and seeing that all the chips are of different size and shape, determine that they could not have come from the same potato and therefore the chips cannot be trusted.  Then, realizing that many of the chips are broken, they repent of ever having bought a bag of chips and supporting such cruelty and oppression.  Finally, they would hold a symposium declaring that all chips (ruffled, flat, baked, or fried) are essentially the same, leading us all, ultimately, to the one, true Spud.

Yes, I just spent nearly a week in the presence of other Presbyterian pastors, and while that is not an altogether unpleasant experience, there are some things that can be very disturbing.  Sometimes, the ribaldry around the dinner table drips with arrogance and condescension.  “Can you believe those rubes who still hold to a literal belief in the Bible?  It’s full of errors; you can’t really trust what you read there.  It must be nuanced; you must see it from an enlightened perspective.”  One pastor railed over the idea that some people still think that the animals entered the Ark two by two, or that there was even an Ark.  How unsophisticated.  “Don’t they see the contradiction.  Genesis elsewhere says, ‘there were seven pairs of all the animals.’  Can’t they see that it’s all just a myth?  And why do they get offended when I say myth?”  (That last bit is a fairly close quote.)

(Just to clarify, there were seven pairs of the clean animals, for the sacrifice.  The rest of the animals, clean and unclean, came on two by two.)

The conversation then turned to one Pastor’s experience when a couple from a “fundamentalist” church came by her house to do an interview.  One might think, judging by her attitude, that these pollsters were buck-toothed viper handlers, for they had the audacity to ask, “Do you believe in heaven?” and “Where did you learn your faith as a child?”  What un-nuanced simpletons!

I have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to vain-glory and arrogance, especially in the pastorate.  I know the sin all too well; it is one that I have to give over to the Lord every day.  But to see it celebrated as enlightened superiority – it made my stomach turn.  There was no love for those whose view of the Bible differed from theirs, no possibility of learning from someone who was passionate about their beliefs.  We were gathered to evaluate ordination exams to determine the readiness of candidates for ordained ministry, and this was the attitude of the readers.

For me, this was an opportunity to exercise the gift of silence.  I knew I was sorely outnumbered, my mind was already fatigued from reading exams all day, and any debate would be an exercise in futility.  I sat quietly, politely sipping my tea, watching the trees sway outside the window, wondering if they were driven by the hot air coming from our table.

The conversation also reminded me of the pernicious peril of Pride.  Pride is dangerous for the Pastor, deadly for the church.  When a Pastor is full of himself, arrogant and boisterous, there’s no room for Jesus, no time for the gospel.  Of course the prideful Pastor won’t tell you that, but you’ll see it.  The Jesus he preaches will begin to look a lot like himself.  And that’s just fine for him.

We need, each of us, pastor and layman, to submit our stubborn will to Christ.  We have wild, rebellious hearts of stone that would rather dive head first into the blazing fires of hell (and yes, I do believe there is a Hell) by our own choice than to give up one iota of independence through submission to someone else.  Oh how we need for God to give us new hearts; hearts that beat for Him alone, hearts that can break for our sin, hearts that are tender and strong to love, hearts that will bow to the Savior and Lord.

May God bless His Church.  May God speak to His Church through the faithful preaching and hearing of His Word.  May God reform His pastors by that same Word.

Now, will someone please pass the chips?

SDG