For those evangelicals tired of the fighting over ordination standards, who are looking for some safe haven from such disputes, “there is no safe haven,” Mouw said. “Our safety can only be found in that place of missional fidelity,” when Christians align themselves with what God is doing in the world.
Affirming the attention being paid to being a missional church and finding new approaches for a post-denominational world, he also warned, “all of it will fail if we don’t pay attention to theology.”
Mouw gave hints of the kind of theological tenets that evangelicals perhaps may consider when the Fellowship holds its “constitutional convention” in Orlando Jan. 12-14.
“We need a Reformed order today with special vows,” he said. He spoke of Presbyterians taking vows promising to practice chastity; to evangelize; to follow solid Reformed orthodoxy; and to support women in ministry.
Mouw praised the PC(USA) for its commitment to including women in ordained ministry, even as many conservative denominations will not. “We must not abandon or marginalize our sisters in the faith,” he said. And: “On this issue, we have decided to follow Jesus and there can be no turning back.”
Still, Mouw also encouraged evangelicals to remain broadly in relationship with others – describing the fruits of his own work in various ecumenical dialogues involving Roman Catholics, Mormons and a range of Reformed Christians including more conservative Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Mouw said he learns much of value from both progressives and more conservative voices. “If we can have fellowship with the United Church of Christ,” he said, “there’s no reason why we can’t have fellowship with the Presbyterian Church in America.”
Despite his weighty message, the man was funny.
He slipped in the phrase “split peas” in describing the various branches of the Presbyterian lineage.
He quoted the theologian John Calvin saying “we must proclaim the promise of the gospel promiscuously, and without distinction to all people” – reveling both in the idea of “a promiscuous, uninhibited, no-holds barred proclamation of the full gospel of Jesus Christ” commenting with a grin that Calvin, in this case, did advocate promiscuity.
And “In heaven we’re going to sing a lot of third (hymn) verses,” Mouw said. “They get skipped.”
That last came from a description he gave of a college convocation involving himself, a rabbi, a priest and a liberal mainline professor (the lineup sounded like the start of a joke, Mouw said).
After hours of discussion, one person in the audience asked Mouw, basically, “What do you believe that these other three guys don’t?”
What came fastest to his mind was the verse of a hymn he’d sung in church the previous Sunday – from verse three, of course, of “It is Well with My Soul,” the 19th century hymn.
His answer was this:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Then, lest anyone be tempted to stop there, Mouw reminded the crowd that not is all well with the world.
“It is not well tonight in the ghettos and the barrios and the reservations and the migrant worker communities,” in Tripoli and sub-Saharan Africa, in suburban Minneapolis and St. Paul, he said. It’s not enough for things to be well with one’s individual soul, he exhorted them when “God is grieving over the not-wellness of the larger creation.”