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September 26, 2007: Starting at the beginning - G-1.0102, G-1.0301

As we evaulate sections of the proposed substitute constitution, we look to both:

a) what is it supposed to do; and,
b) what does it do it is not supposed to do?

Let's start near the beginning.

G-1.0102 The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women and men with their children in covenanted relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests upon the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.

This does not have a parallel in our Book of Order. (Update: This is incorrect; it does, G-7.0103, see update).

What is it supposed to do?

The language here emphasizes the connectional and covenantal nature of the church. It is an expression of the "body of Christ" language of 1 Corinthians (and many other places).

What does it do it is not supposed to do?

There are several things to note here. I know as I write this it is going to sound petty and nit-picky; however, if we don't look at it now, we could be bound by it later.

1. "Presupposes."

"Presupposes" is not a good Form of Government word. It has no real meaning or clarity. What happens if the "presupposition" proves false? Does the rest of the Form of Government not apply?

The purpose of a Form of Government is to define authority and to explain how it is to be exercised. Ambiguity leads to confusion and conflict -- meaning "amendments" or PJC cases.

Also, it "presupposes" badly. The Church has a structure because Jesus is the head and is its authority, and has called us together -- it is not because we have chosen to be together. The only thing "presupposed" is the sovereignty of God expressed through "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" -- the ordering of his church according to his command.

2. "Fellowship of women and men with their children in covenanted relationship with one another."

The language here is awkward and could easily be interpreted to recognize and celebrate same-sex couples with children. If "women and men" is a consecutive list rather than a mandatory grouping, consider these alternate readings of the sentence:

The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women and their children in covenanted relationship with each other...

The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of men and their children in covenanted relationship with each other...

Imagine you have two women (or two men, either way), with children from previous marriages, who talk to you about their living in a "covenant relationship" with each other. Does this polity presuppose that the pastor would be required to perform a baptism celebrating the covenant commitments of this couple?

Granting the benefit of the doubt, this is an illustration of the "law of unintended consequences." It is the first -- but, by no means the last -- time we will see this in the substitute constitution.

 

Next:

G-1.0301 The Meaning of Membership and Baptism

God calls women and men to faith in Jesus Christ and to membership in the church, the body of Christ. The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission, but also its understanding of membership. One becomes a member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of God's call and claim on a human life and of entrance into the membership of the church. The baptism of children witnesses to the truth that God's love claims people before they are able to respond in faith. The baptism of those who enter the covenant of membership upon their own profession of faith witnesses to the truth that God's gift of grace calls for fulfillment in a response of faithfulness (W-2.3008b,c)

This is an expansion (almost twice as long) as G-5.0100, G-5.0101; and G-5.0102.

What is it supposed to do?

There is another section, G-1.0304, that details how a person becomes a member; thus, this is intended to provide an understanding of why we have members. And baptism.

What does it do it is not supposed to do?

1. It lengthens, rather than shortens the section.

2. It confuses.

These are two different concepts lumped into one section. They are related -- but different. There is a definition of membership, then an incomplete discussion of the meaning of baptism.

For example, do the parents have no part in the covenant of baptism when they present their child? According to this section, the only meaning of infant/children baptism is to witness "to the truth that God's love claims people before they are able to respond in faith." That's it.

Is it?

Tomorrow: G-1.0302, G-1.0303b, G-1.304c