New-style Puritans keep the faith and their humor

December 20, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Meet the Borches, modern-day Puritans.

Like their religious forebears, Dave and Linda Borch keep the Sabbath strictly and revere the Bible as the absolute source of truth.

They also teach their three children the importance of critical thinking. And they say the stereotype of Puritans as ruthless, humorless people is largely inaccurate.

The Borches are members of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), a conservative denomination that is pulling in crowds of baby-boomers with a combination of absolutist, clear statements of faith and trendy, upbeat church services.

In the last decade, the denomination has established five churches and a private day school in Anne Arundel County.

The Borches found their home with the religious descendants of the Puritans when they returned from Australia in 1987, where both worked as Russian translators.

Mr. Borch, the son of a main-line Presbyterian minister, says he felt that his father's denomination, the Presbyterian Church-USA, had strayed too far to the left on the theological spectrum.

PCA theology is a balance between fundamentalism and liberalism that most clearly matches "Christianity for the last 2,000 years, orthodox Christianity," said Mr. Borch.

The couple and their children -- Jimmy, 6, Billy, 4, and Rebecca, 2 -- are members of Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian, a PCA ** church that bought and renovated Harundale Cinema several years ago.

They were attracted by the church's sense of community, said Mrs. Borch, who spins, weaves on elaborate looms and dyes her own cloth.

"It's a very warm fellowship," she said. "I can't tell you how many times I've been sick and people found out and came over with meals."

The PCA adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith, a statement of Christian belief adopted in colonial days. The Confession, along with other catechisms, teaches that humanity alienated from God and needs to be "redeemed" through Jesus.

The Presbyterian Church began in the 1950s to back away from the Confession, viewing both its language, and in some instances its theology, as antiquated, says Kenneth Ross, a church historian. A group of conservatives then left the denomination and started the Presbyterian Church of America.

PCA members say they fall into an in-between category. They don't belong with fundamentalists who oppose movie-going and forbid drinking. Neither do they fit with liberals who do not accept the Bible as completely reliable.

"A lot of us would be too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives," said Mr. Borch.

For example, the Borches accept most miracle accounts, but don't believe the "day" of the Genesis creation account refers to a literal day.

Unlike fundamentalists, they accept the concept of textual criticism, or the practice of comparing ancient texts to learn more about the original document. Unlike main-line Presbyterians, the PCA asserts that the Bible is historically accurate and absolutely true, or "inerrant."

Most main-line liberal churches have updated their view of the Bible to allow for scientific and sociological discoveries that appear to contradict biblical teaching, such as the origin of the universe and human sexuality, Mr. Ross said.

But the PCA considers the Bible a "rule book," Mr. Borch said. It is a "reference point that doesn't drift."

"If you can make a good case from scripture that what I'm doing is wrong, I'm responsible to deal with it," he explained.

While some main-line pastors in the county dismiss the PCA as jammed with "Jerry Falwell, uneducated" types, the Borches seem to be intellectuals.

Mr. Borch speaks four languages, has an extensive library and is teaching his 6-year-old son to play chess as a means to "teach him to think logically and for himself." Mrs. Borch has held positions that made her her husband's boss at the National Security Agency. She teaches theology at their church.

"The Bible tells us to study God with all our minds," said the Rev. Brad Allison, the Borches' minister. "We are not afraid of truth wherever we find it. An atheistic psychologist may discover some of God's truth, and we support that."

Of course, not every member of a PCA church is as intellectually oriented or theologically minded as the Borches, said Mr. Allison.

Some are drawn by the church's music, complete with guitars and electric keyboards. Many may respond to a young leadership and membership, say church historians.

Others are attracted by the PCA's concern for the needy. The Puritans taught that they must be concerned for society, a biblical perspective that some conservatives neglected earlier in this century, said Mr. Allison.

"We believe you won't have the gospel until you both speak the truth and demonstrate God's love in action," the minister says.

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