Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Report from the General Assembly 11

NOTE: The General Assembly approved the recommendation to add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. I strongly believe in the open theology that is reflected in an open Book of Confessions. I like the idea of adding Belhar to our Book of Confessions. This is, of course, a constitutional issue which we will need to act on as a Presbytery. This conversation presents us with a good opportunity to have conversation about our Book of Confessions in our churches. Resources about the Belhar Confession including a study guide are available at Copied here is the actual text:

Confession of Belhar

1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe
• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another;
• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain;
• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted;
• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity;
• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God;
• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church;
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe
• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world;
• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;
• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
• which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe
• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged
• that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right;
• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology
• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Ponderings from the General Assembly 10

Grow the Church Deep and Wide

NOTE: The General Assembly voted, without debate, to continue this program emphasis on Growing the Church Deep and Wide. This conversation has not touched the life of very many of our congregations. This action is a simple, theological vision. It does provide a nice framework to begin conversation about the ministry and direction of our congregations. We may ask each session to consider their own work in response to these four priorities: Evangelism, Discipleship, Servanthood, Diversity. Copied here is the actual, approved action item:

The General Assembly Mission Council recommends that the 219th General Assembly (2010) renew its commitment to help grow Christ’s Church deep and wide by doing the following:

1. Extend a churchwide commitment to participate in God’s activity through Jesus Christ in transforming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the 2011–2012 biennium.

2. Encourage synods, presbyteries, sessions, and all agencies, entities, and networks of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to commit to foster the growth of Christ’s Church deep and wide in the following areas:

a. Grow in Evangelism: Share the good news of Jesus Christ. Invite persons to join in the church’s worship and fellowship. Baptize children and adults (Mt. 28:19–20; Lk. 15).

b. Grow in Discipleship: Rediscover Scripture, including daily reading and study. Nurture relationships with Jesus Christ in the context of our Reformed heritage (Lk. 14:33; Jn. 8:31, 13:35, 15:8).

c. Grow in Servanthood: Stand alongside the wider community to promote the well-being and love of neighbor. Embrace stewardship in all of life (Jn. 13:12-17; Mt. 25:34–40).

d. Grow in Diversity: Welcome everyone. Learn from others. Reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of God’s peoples in the world including leadership (Gal. 3:26–29; Rev. 7:9–10).

Report from the General Assembly 9

Note: Here we go! The decision of the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues is bringing a recommendation that will be very controversial in the church. We must wait and see how the whole Assembly handles the Committee's recommendation. Presbytery of Carlisle Elder Commissioner Nancy Flint served on this committee.

The Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted Tuesday (34-18-2) to recommend to the full Assembly changing the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship from “a woman and a man” to “two people.”

Heeding the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, the committee agreed to replace “couple” with “two people” because, according to Advisory Committee on the Constitution representative Catherine McDonald, “couple” in some languages “automatically translates as husband and wife.”

The committee also recommended approving an Authoritative Interpretation that gives ministers of the Word and Sacrament and commissioned lay pastors discretion over which marriage services they'll perform. Sessions may refuse the use of church property for wedding ceremonies of which they don’t approve.

An Authoritative Interpretation requires no approval by presbyteries and does not amend the church’s constitution. If it’s approved this week in plenary session, it becomes effective immediately.

The other nine overtures the committee considered Tuesday were either not approved or were similar enough to the two recommended overtures that they were considered by the committee to be “answered” by those overtures.

Advocating for changing the church's language of who may marry, Laura Marsh, an elder from East Iowa Presbytery, said her church, First Presbyterian of Iowa City, decided that “until we are allowed to marry everybody, we aren’t going to marry anybody. Is everybody happy? No. But there’s been no mass exodus, and we didn’t implode. But we’re urgently asking you to act.”
Committee member the Rev. Marion Haynes-Weller of Donegal Presbytery called herself “a pastor of one of those small rural congregations we seem to be worried about. We are in a very conservative community but it’s a congregation committed to welcoming (gay) members who are impatient with our lack of solidarity in standing with them.”

Young Adult Advisory Delegate Paige Eubanks of Mid-South Presbytery said “My fear is that if we open up Scripture to interpretation, we compromise purity, we become susceptible to deception and this body, my family, will disintegrate.”