The congregation I serve is currently restructuring its session committees. After several years of a wide number of groups, faithful and focused in identity and task, the session is moving to a smaller number of committees, each of them more general in scope.
Of course, progress is halting and uneven. Some committees are eagerly inviting new members – others not so much. Some elders express freedom in the new structure – others experience frustration.
In the midst of these changes, I yearn for a simple way forward, one not framed or fashioned by the details of structure, but grounded on the essentials of our faith. Why bother with such specifics, I wonder? How may we quickly move beyond such details, transcending minutiae and pointing clearly to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? To faith, hope and love?
Whether one believes God or the devil dwells there, I am coming to realize that details form the warp and woof of our faith experience. The initial chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession spends a lot of time on details, taking pains to distinguish the apocrypha from the rest of the canon. Subsequent sections conclude that artistic images of God have no place in the church and the teaching of the gospel is the most ancient doctrine in all the world. While we may not find those conclusions noteworthy or even true, the result is inescapable: our core concerns about faith and love and gospel reveal themselves in the details, in considerations of apocrypha and art and antiquity.
I am blessed and prodded by such details. Blessed when the condition of the parking lot becomes the focus of our concern for hospitality in Christ’s name – and prodded to pause, listen and ponder when I desperately yearn to flee the morass of minutiae for seemingly deeper reflections about faith and life.
In this season of Lent, it is especially easy for me to lose myself. Sometimes I chafe at the surface changes suggested by the season. Sometimes I swing too far in the other direction, focusing so much on the guidelines of the practices commended by the Scriptures that I completely miss the gospel. Am I careful never to practice my piety before others? Do I shut the door and pray only in secret? Do I wash my face when fasting? Or instead, can I find the light to pray whenever it seems to be needful and appropriate, in the busyness of a hospital hallway or the quiet of my study?
As we journey toward cross and resurrection, may God give us the strength to attend carefully to details in a balanced way. Through them, may we discover anew the foundation of our faith. Beyond them, may we always find ourselves in the One who lived and died and now lives again.
Glen Bell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota, Florida, and vice-chair of the board of The Presbyterian Outlook.