Nary An Unpublished Thought







October 18, 2007: An Illustration of Vagary

As we get into Chapter 3 of the proposed substitute constitution, we immediately come across the flexibility that the Task Force sought to implement.

G-3.0107 Administration of Mission

Mission determines the forms and structures needed for the church to do its work. Administration is the process by which a council implements decisions. All administration should enable the church to give effective witness in the world to the new reality of God in Jesus Christ. Administration of mission should be performed by the council nearest the congregation that can most effectively and efficiently accomplish it.

Councils more inclusive than the session may provide examples of policies and procedures that may be gathered into advisory handbooks. These examples illumine practices required by the Constitution but left to councils for specific implementation. Such handbooks may also offer information that enhances or secures the ministry of the particular council.

Each council shall develop a manual of administrative operations that will specify the form and guide the work of mission in that body.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I started to read this and found myself thinking of Charlie Brown's teacher. Or of trying to hear underwater. Or of the picture of someone with a book open on the chest, sound asleep.

The problem is that a quick read would not note the significance of the change being made. Here is what it replaces:

G-9.0402a Mission determines the form of structure and administration. All structures should enable the church to give effective witness to the Lordship of Christ in the contemporary world.

The question is, why the change? "Giving witness to the Lordship of Christ in the contemporary world" talks about the relationship of the risen Jesus Christ to the world. Jesus is Lord. "Giving witness to the new reality of God in Jesus Christ," does that necessarily mean Jesus is Lord? Maybe, maybe not. Flexibility yields ambiguity.

A digression to make the point

Let me explain this in a digression: I am teaching a class in my congregation about the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives document San Diego Presbytery approved several years ago. I use word problems (available elsewhere on this site) to help promote discussion of how real life is theological activity. Here are a few excerpts from my syllabus:

When we ordain officers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the questions we ask is whether individuals “sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?”

We expect a “yes” answer.

The problem is not in getting a “yes” answer, but rather in helping people to identify what are those essential tenets of the Reformed faith that they have received and adopted.

Why do this? Several reasons:

    • It’s important to practice thinking theologically. It’s not something that comes naturally to people. It’s not something that we are particularly accustomed to doing.

    • It’s important to practice thinking theologically together. We are more accustomed to avoid discussing things theologically because “everyone has a right to their own opinion” or “everyone interprets Scripture differently” or “who am I to tell someone else how to think about things?” The problem is that when a real issue comes along, we are extremely uncomfortable dealing with it because we don’t know how others will respond. By practicing now, we give ourselves tools to be able to deal with real issues when they come along – and they will.

  1. It’s important to practice bearing witness. One of the things I observe during periods of crisis or disaster is how many people are asked to articulate their faith. If you have not practiced, if you have not thought these issues through, it is difficult to respond.

  2. It’s a faithful thing to do. Remembering who God is and who we are is really important. Practicing thinking theologically takes time and it requires some discipline – which, not coincidentally, is what being a disciple is all about.

Some groundrules:

  1. Do not expect to agree with everything that is said in class. Expect to disagree with some – and use that feeling to engage the material. If you disagree but can’t say why, it is an indication that some more digging would be worthwhile.

  2. Watch for the consequences that follow taking a stand on the issues presented.

  3. Do not expect easy answers to be given. No one can do the work of faith for you.

It is the first groundrule here that is important: flexibility and ambiguity assume we all believe the same thing. Our recent history has shown this is not accurate. Thus, when the Lordship of Christ is changed to something less clear, it is making a theological statement.

Mandated giving

Later in the same G-3.0107, the following is provided:

Presbyteries shall be responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of requested funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly.

It replaces:

G-9.0404d Each governing body above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular churches within its bounds. The presbyteries shall be responsible for raising their own per capita funds, and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and to the General Assembly. The presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to the sessions of the churches within their bounds.

How do you read the new proposal? "Presbyteries shall be responsible for ...raising and timely transmission of requested funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly." In other words, synod and the General Assembly has taxing authority over the presbyteries.

There is no distinction between per capita and mission funding in this section. General Assembly and synods request, and the presbyteries shall be responsible for raising and timely transmission of the requested funds.

How about that?