I was born into a Presbyterian family. I had no say in that. However, at one point in my adult life, I considered changing traditions. I married a committed Episcopalian and found myself drawn to the liturgy and weekly communion of his upbringing. In the end, what kept me Presbyterian was our polity. More specifically, the theology behind our polity.
I couldn’t leave our belief in the parity between clergy and lay, our commitment to discerning together, our representational, connectional form of government. No matter how hard it is to explain to others what a presbytery is or, in recent years, what it means that I am a teaching elder, I am convinced that our polity shows forth important aspects of the kingdom of God.
We are process people; few things happen quickly. Bishops are more efficient. Congregational votes more conclusive. Our decency and order require a lot of questioning and some chaos along the way. That can be frustrating but it usually ensures that when we finally reach a decision and act, people have been heard, ideas have been thought through, leaders are committed and supported.
Perhaps that is why I grieve where we are right now in our denomination. As one ruling elder said after a presbytery mess, “We are Presbyterians, we should do better.” So much of what we should be celebrating is tainted with lament. Money is being spent of attorney fees rather than mission. Energy is being expended on investigations rather than ministry. Transparency is delayed in light of possible litigation. We are Presbyterians, we should do better.
My prayer is that we will do better. I am a Presbyterian because of our polity but also because our theology takes sin utterly seriously. Total depravity doesn’t roll off the tongue but it is hard to deny and impossible for any of us to avoid. Not one of us is righteous, not one. The glorious flip side to this is our equal embrace of God’s grace. We are forgiven and freed not because we earn or deserve it, but because God is good.
We are at a critical point in our life together, in this connectional system where there is no us and them, only us together. There is no way out but through. Truth needs to be discerned. All that ethically and morally can be shared needs to be shared. Confession needs to happen and forgiveness needs to be extended. Trust has to be restored and that won’t happen without work, on all our parts.
I am confident, because I am Presbyterian, that God’s providence will not, cannot, be thwarted. Therefore, we need not be afraid. I pray we will be brave, speak the truth in love, listen to each other with humility, forgive as we have been forgiven, and move forward in ministry, together, the priesthood of believers and the communion of the saints.