GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETING IN DETROIT: LASER FOCUS ON UNITY
As elected commissioners are preparing to come together in Detroit (June 14-21) to become the “voice” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we know that there will be several issues up for debate. I am assuming the issue of same-gender marriage will be among the most contentious of issues on the docket. As in the past, commissioners will debate this and many other issues with conviction and passion. As in the past, a variety of diverse opinions will be brought forward that are faithful to our reformed tradition. These opinions will be thoughtful and faithful to various interpretations of scripture, confessions, and the constitution of the church. That is why I invite all who read this blog to read and be guided in prayer by our Book of Order (Constitution) that says:
The General Assembly is the council of the whole church and it is representatives of the unity of the synods, presbyteries, sessions, and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) …. The General Assembly constitutes the bond of union, community, and mission among all its congregations and councils, to the end that the whole church becomes a community of faith, hope, love, and witness. As it leads and guides the witness of the whole church, it shall keep before it the marks of the Church (F-1.02302), the notes by which Presbyterian and Reformed communities have identified themselves through history (F.1.0303) and the six Great Ends of the Church (F.1.0304).
Lively debate has always been a healthy way for the church to move forward in mission and ministry. It is my prayer, with so many who may feel they cannot live within this framework of being a divese church, is that we search ways to keep a “laser focus” on those things unite us.
This image of “laser focus” was used by Rev. Chip Hardwick, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Director of Theology, Worship and Education, in a recent blog. He said in this blog that he hopes this General Assembly will focus not on the things that divide us but
keeping a laser focus on those things that will help equip their congregations to go out and serve their larger community.
Side Note: Rev. Chip Hardwick will be guest preaching at the March 4th meeting of the Presbytery of Lake Huron.
Let us as a Presbyterian Church carry in our hearts the constitutional words that have united us in ministry and mission through the years—the “Marks of the Church” and the “Great Ends of the Church” (below).
F-1.0302 The Marks of the Church
With all Christians of the Church catholic, we affirm that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
a. The Unity of the Church
Unity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Just as God is one God and Jesus Christ is our one Savior, so the Church is one because it belongs to its one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church seeks to include all people and is never content to enjoy the benefits of Christian community for itself alone. There is one Church, for there is one Spirit, one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5–6).
Because in Christ the Church is one, it strives to be one. To be one with Christ is to be joined with all those whom Christ calls into relationship with him. To be thus joined with one another is to become priests for one another, praying for the world and for one another and sharing the various gifts God has given to each Christian for the benefit of the whole community. Division into different denominations obscures but does not destroy unity in Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), affirming its historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, is committed to the reduction of that obscurity, and is willing to seek and to deepen communion with all other churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
b. The Holiness of the Church
Holiness is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Through the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God takes away the sin of the world. The holiness of the Church comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions.
Because in Christ the Church is holy, the Church, its members, and those in its ordered ministries strive to lead lives worthy of the Gospel we proclaim. In gratitude for Christ’s work of redemption, we rely upon the work of God’s Spirit through Scripture and the means of grace (W-5.5001) to form every believer and every community for this holy living. We confess the persistence of sin in our corporate and individual lives. At the same time, we also confess that we are forgiven by Christ and called again and yet again to strive for the purity, righteousness, and truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and promised to all people in God’s new creation.
c. The Catholicity of the Church
Catholicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God overcomes our alienation and repairs our division.
Because in Christ the Church is catholic, it strives everywhere to testify to Christ’s embrace of men, women, and children of all times, places, races, nations, ages, conditions, and stations in life. The catholicity of the Church summons the Church to a deeper faith, a larger hope, and a more complete love as it bears witness to God’s grace.
d. The Apostolicity of the Church
Apostolicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people.
Because in Christ the Church is apostolic, it strives to proclaim this gospel faithfully. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation, God’s kingdom drawing the present into itself. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages.
The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples