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The Time Between the Times

The church has just celebrated Advent and Christmas and now looks toward Easter and Pentecost.

In terms of the triune God's grand plan of salvation, we who belong to Christ are living in the time between the times, between the already and the not yet. We know, by faith, that Christ stands at the beginning and ending of all that is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the meantime God's glorious plans for the creation are unfolding inexorably in human history.

More specifically, God's raising of Jesus from the dead is the center of history, and the beginning of the end of history. As we speak of the time between the times, more properly we are speaking of the time between God's self-revelation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the inauguration of the kingdom of God (coupled with the extension of the Incarnation, the birth of the church at Pentecost) and Christ's second coming, which will bring to conclusion God's plans for the whole creation.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), like all parts of the universal church of Jesus Christ on Earth, lives in this time between the times, as historically understood. And yet there are an infinite number of far more limited times between the times in the life of the Christian Church down through the ages.

The first decade of the 21st century is just such a time for the Presbyterian Church, a critical time in which life-and-death decisions will need to be made.

This more limited understanding of the time between the times, in the first decade of the 21st century, has at least two facets:

(1) the time between old age and death for the denomination if current trends continue; and

(2) the time between the situation of theological/confessional uncertainty in which we find ourselves today, and a clear affirmation — by most of the Presbyterian Church's ordained leadership — of the foundational convictions of the historic Christian movement.

The latter includes reaffirmation by the ordained leadership of the church of biblically and theologically rooted views of human sexuality, which are the norms according to which the community lives its life together in the world. Widely divergent views on this topic have been the occasion of enormous internal turmoil for several years.

To address the first issue: the time between now and the prospective death of the Presbyterian Church, the question must be raised as to whether this be inevitable, 30, 40, 50 years from now, as suggested by some?

Real Presence III

We’ve been examining the concept of real presence in this column, and its significance to our understanding of the nature and work of the triune God. God is really present, truly present, in every place all the time. And if that be true, as Christians profess it to be true, then life cannot be lived as if it were not true.

Real Presence II

Is the triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — truly present in the world God made and for which Christ died on the cross? That is the question being raised in this space during this season of Advent leading toward Christmas.

The point made in the previous column was that much of what we observe about the life of today's church — modern, acculturated, well-to-do, self-satisfied — would lead the impartial observer to question whether we modern Christians truly believe that God is really present.

Building Community Among Strangers

The ultimate result of the Presbyterian Church opening itself to its Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit in the matter of building community will be what a recent General Assembly paper called "Building Community Among Strangers."

The paper eventually approved by the General Assembly in 1999 had a long and conflicted history, but what was produced was finally affirmed by most.

Rebuilding Community: In the Higher Governing Bodies

We’ve been discussing at some length in this column the need at this time for Presbyterians and the Presbyterian Church to recover the wellsprings of faith and to experience the rebuilding of community under Jesus Christ its Head, and by means of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

Rebuilding Community – In the Congregation

If the primary task of the Presbyterian Church today is the task of rebuilding community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit — as has been suggested in recent weeks — then the primary locus of that building effort must be in the congregation. For the congregation is where the people of God have their spiritual home.

Rebuilding the Community of the Church

Forty years ago, the Presbyterian Church — in both its principal branches, the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church, U.S. — was busy marshaling its accumulated spiritual and material resources in addressing major structural issues of justice in American society which had been long neglected.

The Wellsprings of Faith

It is time for Presbyterians to remember and to recover the wellsprings of their faith, the fountainhead of God’s grace which suffuses the life of each Christian, of the church and even the world, though the world knows it not.

Those wellsprings are a constant source of faith, hope and love, and they are always there, but it is easy to forget that they are there; easy to ignore them; easy to turn from them in the struggles of everyday life.

Reinventing Theological Education II

As stated in this column last week, the 10 theological seminaries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) collectively are arguably the most important set of institutions beyond the congregation, with which they have a symbiotic relationship. To the extent that the Presbyterian tradition depends on learned ministers and educated lay people, derived from a deeply ingrained commitment to serving God with the mind, the seminaries are indispensable.