So change is upon us. The fidelity-chastity ordination standard has been replaced by the “joyfully submit” standard. And the new Form of Government has been adopted, jettisoning an operations manual in favor of a streamlined constitution.
You voted for it. Now’s the time to enact it — with care.
Neither the passionate advocates nor the steadfast opponents had the votes to pass or defeat either of these sea-changing amendments. It was you, the centrist majority, the middle of the church, who swung the vote.
Who won? Who lost? This much is clear. Small government won big, and the command-and-control administrative model lost hands-down.
As in all governmental structures, be they a family or an empire, the PC(USA)’s pendulum constantly swings between more centralization and less.
These two approved amendments signal an intentional move toward decentralized governance, i.e., localism, states’ rights.
We Presbyterians have been trending in both directions. The Book of Order has been expanding at a crazy rate — adding rules to cover every contingency, preventing deviations from the norm. Yet congregations have been operating more and more congregationally, their sessions setting policy, developing mission programs and funding projects without even considering the denomination’s policies and programs.
Now the governance model will better match the congregationalist trend. For better or for worse.
For it to be better rather than worse, we all need your help.
For one thing, we need you to rekindle your passion for the gospel. Advocates on opposite ends of any debate commonly speak of you as the mushy middle — spineless wimps. You know better. You have a passion for the faith, a passion for the church. You stand at the center, defined not as a bland golden mean but as the theological center: God. Those caught up in the cause célèbre, the battle of the era, can inadvertently slip into “God-of-our-cause” thinking — and God becomes a means to an end. Your resistance toward such thinking is good. But you sometimes also get caught by the trap of disinterestedness. Please eschew such passivity and help us all to focus on the true center of the faith, namely the Trinitarian God, for indeed the chief end of all of our lives is to glorify that God of the universe, that God of love.
Second, we need you to re-engage your gifts of reconciliation. You build bridges. You understand in ways that escape others’ grasp how unity in Christ comes from Christ alone, how it transcends uniformity in conviction. Your love for Christ drives your passion for relationships, for mutual ministry, for corporate learning. Now’s the time to schedule lunches with folks who feel heartbroken and disenfranchised. Now’s the time to love one another in this diverse fellowship, and you are equipped to lead the way.
Third, we need you to help us integrate in a whole new way. Your tolerance for ambiguity helps you hold things together: a simple faith and scholarly study, social justice and evangelism, formal liturgy and informal praise, Presbyterian distinctives and ecumenical initiatives, freedom of conscience and majority rule, Reformed theology and ever-to-be-reformed openness. We need you to pull these and other dialectical opposites together with theological clarity and God-honoring devotion. Help us reclaim our common Christian language of faith — the language handed down to us from the apostles, the prophets, and most of all the living Word, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yes, you who often protect the status quo have voted for change. Please help the rest of us to live into these changes with grace, with confidence and with faithfulness.