THE FOUNDATIONS OF PRESBYTERIAN POLITY

Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There are now four sections in our constitution.  With all the work we did in approving the (NFOG) New Form of Government, how could I miss the fact that we added a fourth section to our constitution?  The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote a pastoral letter this past week  (July 10, 2014) reminding us once again of these “foundations” – to quote Dr. Sorge: 

The former Book of Order identified features of our foundation here and there, but did not lay them out anywhere in order  Our revised version now identifies our foundations as one discrete section among four, each identified by their first letter.:

  1. F – Foundations of our life together
  2. G – Governance of our life together
  3. W – Worship as the core practice of our life together
  4. D – Discipline that insures the ongoing integrity of our life together.

 Aha!   There is one quote I have used often in referring to these foundations.  Having served an urban church struggling with the decline in membership and resources we affirmed often:

The Church is the body of Christ,. Christ gives the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.  The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (I Corinthians 12: 27-28):  The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.  F-1.0301

It’s time for me to check out the rest of these “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity”.   In outline form:   

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity

Chapter One

The Mission of the Church

F.1.01 God’s Mission

F.1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

F.1.03 The Calling of the Church

F.1.04 Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

 

Chapter Two

The Church and Its Confessions

F.2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

F.2.02 The Confessions as Subordinate Standards

F.2.03 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Church Catholic

F.2.04 The Confessions as Statements if the Faith of the Protestant Reformation

F.2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition

 

Chapter Three

Principles of Order and Government

F.3.01 Historic Principles of Church Order

F.3.02 Principles of Presbyterian Government

F.3.03 Foundational Statements

F.3.04 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Defined

 

I end this blog with the words of Dr. Sorge who said in his pastoral letter:

In a time when some folk wonder whether and how our beloved church can weather some storms we are currently facing, it is critically important that we consider the sort of foundation that can keep us strong all the way through.  Understanding the storm is important, but attending to our foundations is what will cause us to survive and to thrive today and tomorrow, to the glory o God.”

 Entrusting our lives to God alone,  

Amen

 

  

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