Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While it is not official until the Office of the General Assembly receives notification from presbyteries that have voted, it appears that, as of June 7, 2011, the proposed new Form of Government (FOG) has been approved by a majority of our 173 presbyteries.
The new FOG will replace the current version within the Book of Order of the church’s Constitution on July 10, 2011, one year after the adjournment of the 219th General Assembly (2010). The print edition of the new Book of Order will be available by late July.
The new Form of Government at its core
A new section, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which contains the vast majority of the first four chapters of the current FOG, will also be added to the beginning of the Book of Order. Within it are these words:
In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ draws worshiping communities and individual believers into the sovereign activity of the triune God at all times and places. As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction, it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him. (F-1.0401)
The foundational message of the saving love of God through Jesus Christ is timeless. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And yet, when the Spirit has moved the church to respond to “the sovereign activity of the triune God,” the church has, in turn, worked to reshape itself to do so effectively.
While the new Form of Government will help the PC(USA) to be a faithful and responsive church in the 21st century, it also has a dimension of bringing us back to a truly constitutional document that contains broad governing and theological principles and emphasizes function over structure.
What will change?
Many Presbyterians will see nothing suddenly or dramatically different with a new Form of Government. Worship services will go on as usual, and congregations will continue to teach the faith, serve their communities, reach out to those in need, and work to further God’s realm on earth. However, what will be different is that congregations, presbyteries, and synods will have the opportunity to tailor mission and ministry to fit their own particular contexts and challenges.
The new FOG will also usher in changes in terminology. For example, ministers of the Word and Sacrament will be known as teaching elders, partnering in ministry with ruling elders who serve on the congregation’s council (session).
It is a season of much change in the church, and change is often accompanied by anxiety. Making the transition from the current Form of Government to the new one will take time, patience, and grace. We will all be living gradually into these new dimensions of the church’s governance. We commend to you the resources and guides at http://oga.pcusa.org/formofgovernment for assistance, including the “Frequently Asked Questions” document that accompanies this letter. Further resources will be made available over the course of the summer to help with this transition.
The best resources through this transition, however, will be each other. A new Form of Government puts all of us on the same page, as it were. Through conversation, cooperation, and collaboration, we will discover the most effective ways to move forward into this new and exciting chapter of the life of the church.
In the end, as affirmed in the Confession of 1967, “The church ... orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, finances, and administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves” (9.40). The mission remains the same: to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to work for the reconciliation of the world. With God’s help, may this new Form of Government enable us to be ever more faithful to that mission.
Cindy Bolbach Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Linda Valentine Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council
Landon Whitsitt Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
This Sunday, Jan. 30, let’s meet at 9:30 or 9:45 (depending on whether the musicians are rehearsing with a new keyboard!) to talk about whether you’d like me to order copies of the book.
A good discussion starter might be, “What do you have trouble believing?”
Here’s what Barb found on the Internet:
When I first met Danny, he said, "Preacher, you need to know that I'm an atheist. I don't believe the Bible. I don't like organized religion. And I can't stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians."
I liked him right away!
In spite of Danny's avowed atheism and my devout Christian beliefs, we became close friends. Over the next year Danny and I engaged in numerous conversations about faith. During that time Danny softened his stance on atheism. One day he announced with a laugh, "I've decided to upgrade from an atheist to an agnostic." Several months later Danny said, "I've had an epiphany. I realize that I don't reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity." A few weeks after that conversation, Danny said, "Martin, you've just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So I want to know--what's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"
"What's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?" What a great question! Danny's provocative question prompted me to write a new book, using his question as the title. Part one of the book presents 10 things Christians don't need to believe. In short, Christians don't need to believe in closed-minded faith. For example, Christians don't need to believe that:
• God causes cancer, car wrecks and other catastrophes
• Good Christians don't doubt
• True Christians can't believe in evolution
• Woman can't be preachers and must submit to men
• God cares about saving souls but not saving trees
• Bad people will be "left behind" and then fry in hell
• Jews won't make it to heaven
• Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
• God loves straight people but not gay people
• It's OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious
On the other hand, there are things Christians do need to believe, which is the focus of part two of my book. They need to believe in Jesus -- his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life's most profound questions including:
• Who is Jesus?
• What matters most?
• Am I accepted?
• Where is God?
• What brings fulfillment?
• What about suffering?
• Is there hope?
• Is the church still relevant?
• Who is the Holy Spirit?
• What is God's dream for the world?
Like Danny, many people in the 21st century hunger for an open-minded expression of Christian faith. That's especially true for young people. For example, in a recent episode of the popular television show Glee, several high school students explain why they are turned off by religion. From their perspective, the church is down on gays, women and science. When you add to that the arrogant and judgmental attitudes found in many religious-right churches, it's easy to see why people are repelled by religion. If the only faith options are fundamentalism or no religion, many people will opt for no religion. Thankfully, a better alternative exists -- vibrant, open-minded, grace-filled, gender-equal, life-giving, centrist, moderate/mainline faith. Promoting that kind of faith is my greatest passion in ministry. For example, I received the following e-mail a few weeks ago from a woman named Shelly:
...I was raised in a religious-right fundamentalist church. Suffice it to say that my experiences were such that by the time I finished college, I was totally estranged from religion. Twenty years later, I realized that I was neglecting an important part of my life, and I began searching for a church home. I attended a few churches and was so discouraged. I wondered whether it was possible to find a church where my children would not hear hate and intolerance preached. Then one day my family and I visited your congregation, and were filled with joy to find a church that embraces grace instead of judgment. So here we are, a year later, and I actually look forward to Sunday services each week. I feel God's presence in my life for the first time in many years, and I want to thank you for your part in this process...
In a nutshell, that e-mail explains why I wrote What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? I want people like Shelly to know that a viable alternative exists to arrogant, judgmental, closed-minded religion. I also wrote the book for moderate and mainline churches. We in the moderate/mainline tradition have a compelling faith story to tell. However, we need practical resources to better share that story. So I devised a seven-week congregational initiative based on the book that moderate and mainline churches can use to better tell their story.