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September 18, 2007: A First Glance into the Proposed FOG

I began looking to the proposed overhaul of the Form of Government (available for download) mentioned yesterday. Like everyone else, before I invest in a full review, I wanted to see how some of my favorite sections fared.

I started with the Preliminary Principles. I have always found G-3.0300a, "The Church's Calling" to be encouraging,

"The Church is called to tell the good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord proclaiming in Word and Sacrament that the new age has dawned, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world."

Did it make it into the new revision? Well, here's the parallel listed in the side-by-side comparison:

F-1.0302a. The Apostolicity of the Church

       The Church is apostolic because it receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, and because it is itself sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The mission of the Church is to proclaim in Word and Sacrament that the new age has dawned, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world.

Sigh.

It's just not quite the same, is it?

Things change when you change things.

What's the big deal? "Only" is missing.

"Only" is a big deal. Whether by oversight or by intention, the re-writing of this section and the elimination of the word "only" was a theological choice. The new language is not only convoluted, it substantively removes the conviction that Jesus' death has meaning for everyone. By its removal, it creates an ambiguity that a fuzzy Jesus -- the Jesus of other religions, the Jesus of our own creation, the Jesus who pleases us -- is sufficient for salvation. Salvation in Christ is not like an ice cream truck to which we call others if they would like a treat; "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

"Only" is a big deal; remember the Peacemaking crisis? "What's the big deal about Jesus?" The Confessing Church Movement, the "Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ" statement, and even the New Wineskins' breaking away are all traceable to the denomination's inability and unwillingness to be accountable to the message of salvation revealed in Scripture.

Theology matters. Words matter.

Look, I understand that the Form of Government is not a systematic theology; it is not the sum and substance of our collective witness.

Even so, as I mentioned yesterday, this proposed revision makes sense only if it inspires trust and does not appear to be designed to create ambiguity and loopholes. In fairness, I have not exhaustively reviewed all the documents to see how this plays through. It may be there and I have not seen it. However, I had the wind taken out of my sails at the outset.

It is no fun trying to "catch" changes that have been made.

It is just sad to have this happen at the very first section I reviewed. It is difficult to work up a whole lot of enthusiasm to find reasons to support this revision when the first step is a gopher hole.

I will keep looking and reviewing. I will have my session look through it so that they may form their own opinions.