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October 31, 2007: Reformation Day and Session Response to the FoG Task Force

Happy Reformation Day!

I drive all my staff and family crazy by insisting they know what day it is and demanding they wish me a happy Reformation Day, too. Ah, well, the eccentricities of a pastor.

Response to the FoG Task Force

The session of Chula Vista Presbyterian Church studied the proposed substitute constitution as a homework assignment for the month of October. Last night, the session approved this response in an effort to participate in the process.

Our response is not the 95 Theses. It is our best effort to give feedback to the Form of Government Task Force. The timing has more to do with the November deadline for response than it does with our having completed an exhaustive review. Personally, I am still in the middle of G-3.

The gist of the response is this:

A. We are not persuaded that the proposal is a better option than living under the current Form of Government.

This is not a condemnation of the Task Force or their work. Sometimes it is important to consider an alternative in order to realize the value of what you already have.

The Task Force's suggestion on the powerpoint presentation that "the only way to know whether this polity will work is to put it to work in the life of the church" (slide 9) is kind of like seeing a tangled web of electrical wires and saying, "Let's see what happens if we try this..." You may get what you want, you may short out the whole thing.

The Task Force intends to move us from a regulatory to a missional Form of Government. Polity cannot lead this move. The reason we have a regulatory model is because we have had a sustained experience of conflicts requiring clarification. For the best example, just look at the history of ordination standards:

Even after becoming part of the Form of Government, the issue remains a hot topic at every -- yes, every -- General Assembly since. A change in polity will not change the environment in which these debates are engaged. It will simply change the rules and, in some cases, take us back a few steps to have to re-debate decisions previously made.

Our polity is not what has created the regulatory environment. Our behavior has.

So, the effort to move from regulatory to missional smacks of "doctrine divides and mission unites." In other words, give up accountability so we can move forward in mission; or, we need to trust each other. The problem is that we do not. Basing a polity on trust that does not exist is bound to destruct, not construct. It is building on a foundation of sand.

Our behavior also makes a change a temporary solution. It would mean that there will be a flurry of clarifying amendments to next General Assemblies and cases going to permanent judicial commissions to handle disagreements. Very quickly, we would either be back in a regulatory mode or we would have disintegrated.

 

B. If we are to move to the proposed substitute, we have several suggestions for changes.

We made several suggestions about how we thought it could be improved -- in the event that it goes forward and becomes the Form of Government. Most are suggestions about clarifying practical applications -- the defaults if councils fail to provide the handbooks and manuals. We did emphasize the importance of re-inserting what is currently G-3.0300a, "Deleting the language, 'by the grace of God' and 'as the only savior and Lord' would be a major substantive change in the theological foundation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

This is not the end.

The deadline for responding is why our memo was approved now. I plan to continue going through the remainder of chapter 3 (and 4 and 5 and 6). This issue is coming to the next General Assembly.