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October 4, 2007: Quick Hits to wrap up Chapter 1

Three quick hits to conclude the review of Chapter 1 of the proposed substitute constitution:

Members' Self-Review

G-1.0303b is a subtle change and perhaps not huge, but it highlights something worth considering:

Currently:

G-5.0501c Accepting the privilege and responsibility of membership in the church is a commitment to Jesus Christ that binds the individual to fulfillment of the obligations of membership. Members shall, when encouraged by the session, regularly review and evaluate the integrity with which they are involved in the ministry of the church and consider ways in which their participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.

Substitute Constitution proposed:

G-1.0303b. Members shall regularly review and evaluate the integrity with which they are involved in the ministry of the church and consider ways in which their participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.

I have added the emphasis. Aside from deleting the introductory sentence, the difference is the elimination of the clause "when encouraged by the session."

The practical impact of this change is to make members subject to disciplinary proceedings as the first step when anyone else determines that a member has not "regularly reviewed and evaluted the integrity with which they are involved in the ministry of the church." (What is regularly? What constitutes a review and evaluation? What defines integrity of involvement?)

Of course you may say, "That's ridiculous. No one's going to do that!" Well, either they will and it is a problem or they won't and the language is meaningless.

As it currently exists, the session is to exercise responsibility to be the spiritual leadership of the congregation. That responsibility includes "encouraging" members who have fallen down in their responsibilities. The current language encourages community accountability akin to the third mark of the True Kirk identified in the Scots Confession, "ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God's Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue is nourished." (Book of Confessions, 3.18)

Do we trust in the goodness of the individual to abide, or are we relational and hold each other accountable? Which better reflects our theology?

The elimination of "inactive" member status

True confession time: I cannot say that I have effectively utilized the "inactive" member status as a tool to aggressively seek out those who have fallen away. (Perhaps undercutting what I have just written above? Or, serving as the illustration of how we cannot be trusted on our own?)

That said, we have used the inactive member status to provide a bond with people who have moved away but are still emotionally attached. They receive the monthly newsletter, the directory, and they remain on the list as our staff prays through the congregation. If the change is made, this ongoing ministry is lost.

If the "inactive" status is eliminated, we actually lose the flexibility that the current Book of Order allows.

G-1.0503e Lodging all administrative responsibility in the session

This one is similar to the "members' review" earlier in this post. This section deals with business to be conducted at a congregational meeting. The list in this section is prefaced by, "Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall be limited to matters relating to the following:"

Currently:

G-7.0304a.(5) matters related to the permissive powers of a congregation, such as the desire to lodge all administrative responsibility in the session, or the request to presbytery for exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size.

Substitute constitution proposed:

G-1.0503e deciding to lodge all administrative responsibility in the session, or to request from presbytery an exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size.

By itself, this would not be a change that raises red flags for me. If you have gotten this far in this post, though, you can see the impact that change in language has on practical ministry.

The substitute constitution language could be read to require the decision to lodge all administrative responsibility. Under the current language, that decision is specifically identified as a permissive power, and the decision is discretionary.

Could the substitute constitution be read as allowing discretion? Yes. Could it be read as not allowing discretion? Yes.

It would not be a problem until you got to a congregational meeting in a situation where there is conflict involving the session; you can bet that one of the session members would defend their actions by saying that the session has the authority to do something because the Book of Order limits the congregation's options in administrative matters.