This is the fourth in a series of posts responding to the five questions posed by a special GA committee exploring the nature of the church in the 21st Century (see previous responses here, here and here). This round, I’m considering Question 4:
>What unique voice do we, as Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition, bring regarding vital ministry in churches and in society?
I know we joke about being the frozen chosen, what with our beloved decency and order in combination with the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. But all one has to do is sit in on a meeting of nearly any governing body to see that we are a passionate people! Add to that the presbyblogosphere and you can see people speaking out on any number of issues with gusto. Frozen? Certainly not in that sense.
So what do we bring to the table besides TULIP and an almost fanatical devotion to Robert’s Rules of Order*?
> Tradition. Not in the slavishly re-living the past in today’s world sense (tempting though that can be), but in the sense that we carry with us a Book of Confession alongside Scripture to help us remember how the Body of Christ has wrestled with the Living Word from generation to generation. As we strive to bring the good news to this time and place, we have an established ordo from which to develop meaningful worship, we have music ranging from hymns to chants to choruses to psalms, we have brilliant theologians and poets to help us find words to proclaim, teach and share over coffee. We are not working without a net as we stretch into new realms.
>Education – Having sat through sermons and lectures by self-taught and self-proclaimed ministers, I am grateful for the emphasis we place on preparing our clergy. Seminary is and will always be only a start, but it is an important start, assuring that women and men are at least in the same zip code doctrinally. On the job training for church leaders is not inherently bad when it comes to the hows, but much damage can be perpetrated on a congregation if a pastor is learning what she believes as she goes. Theological education provides leaders with a lower-risk place to find their doctrinal footing as they learn how wrestle with word and Word.
>Ecclesiology that struggles against individualism at the personal and congregational level. An honest belief that each person is blessed to be a blessing, gifted to be a essential part of the Body in order to work within the church universal to achieve God’s mission of reconciliation of the cosmos. We promise our children to raise them in the church; the church promises to help us raise our children… and when we are living out our polity, we promise the same to those brothers and sisters who work to plant new churches.
>Sacraments as Evidence of Covenental Theology – Gathering to celebrate baptisms and communion reminds us of God’s covenant love for us and Christ’s initiation of the new covenant. It reinforces our ecclesiology and helps us see the work of the Trinity as it ought to be reflected in our own relationships within and between congregations. We live into the fact that there is nothing we can do or say to make the gospel better news than it it, nor that there is any way we can understand or respond to God’s love on our own. We depend on the grace of God, the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as they are embodied, recalled and proclaimed in the sacraments.
>Polity – when we truly live out our constitutional documents, the balance of “power” is evenly split between elected elders and ministers of word and sacrament. These women and men have the task of spiritual leadership in the church that challenges all ordained leaders to take part in planning worship, discerning the mission of the congregation and supporting the work and ministry that we share at the presbytery, synod and denominational levels. True spiritual leadership is much more difficult, beautiful and rewarding work than what it is often reduced to by the tyranny of the urgent.
*with a tip of the hat to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition skit