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October 17, 2007: Overview of Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of the substitute constitution is where the major changes have taken place.

It is entitled "Councils of the Church" and covers sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly. In the current Book of Order,

The reasoning for the change is to move from a "regulatory model" to a "missional" model.

The change from the current Book of Order would be significant because it would leave nebulous the answer to the question, "or else what?"

The substitute presumes that a change in polity will be able to move us to a place where the "or else what?" question is unnecessary -- and herein lies the very flaw that will make it unsupportable. There are already many people who are suspect about the denomination's ability to stand for something (and some who are absolutely certain that the denomination stands for everything, and therefore nothing).

The substitute is basically a re-statement of the "doctrine divides, mission unites" approach of the Auburn Affirmation.

The Presbyterian News Service has taken an active role in trying to promote the recent mission-ality of the denomination, doing more than a dozen stories about denominational missions and missionaries in the last two and a half weeks.

The problem is that pesky "third mark" of the true church (Scots Confession, 3.18): whereby vice is repressed and virtue is nourished. In other words: ecclesiastical discipline or accountability.

Or. Else. What?

Without accountability (here, perceived as "regulatory"), there is no reasonable expectation that mission efforts would be united. Is the purpose of mission to share the "good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord" (which language you will remember was eliminated in the Foundations section) or is it simply to do good things like pursue justice and compassion?

What's the difference? Sharing the good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord necessarily includes pursuing justice and compassion; pursuing justice and compassion does not necessarily include sharing the good news of salvation. Doctrine divides, mission unites; right?

So, as we begin to go through the "missional" structure of the substitute constitution, we will be paying particular attention to if and how church discipline (regulatory) is addressed.

Tomorrow: Committees, Commissions and Councils