Posts Tagged ‘Amendment 10-A’

10-A: raising the bar?

My friend Ed Brenegar commented this morning on my last post, talking about the balance of local control and the connectional system of the PC(USA).  I appreciate how he brought up the presbyteries’ role in helping congregations, so that no congregation is stuck trying to figure out how to do ministry alone.

A lot of folks have wondered how 10-A will apply in the broader contexts, as governing bodies of the church continue their functions of calling, ordaining, and installing the officers of the church.   A lot of people are wondering — if sessions and presbyteries seek to interpret the new text faithfully, will every candidate for office be painstakingly scrutinized?  And if so, what will that mean?   (I remember speaking about this ten years ago at presbytery meetings!)

It remains to be seen how this one amendment will change (or not change) the preparation and selection of the church’s leaders.  But I do know one thing, regardless of what’s in the Book of Order:  it’s time for officers of the church to humbly kneel in awe of the sacred trust placed in our hands.

We pastors, elders, and deacons ask a lot of church members and visitors.  We ask them to conform their lives to a standard that is totally foreign to some cultural contexts.  We ask them to give their hard-earned money.  We ask them to give the precious time that seems to slip away faster with each day. 

When church members do those things, they expect to have something back, and rightly so.  Sometimes the expectations get mixed up, as in, “I gave a lot of money and you won’t put my name on a window,” or “I worked hard to pick out pretty carpet for the sanctuary and the pastor’s baby crawled on it!”  But on average, those who commit their lives to Christ and his church expect that the leaders will make serious commitments too.

When our sermons turn into rants, or when we fail to provide quality Christian Education programs, or when we brush people off when they express fears and doubts, or when we treat our own bodies as throwaway commodities, we, the leaders of the church, are in deep trouble.  It’s not just that these failures could result in poor church attendance or low giving.  If we ask people to make commitments on a certain level, and we fail to keep our commitments at that same level, we have turned into snake oil salesmen:  exchanging people’s trust for slick and meaningless promises.

Again, I have no idea what 10-A will bring in terms of the preparation for ministry process, examination of elders-elect, and so on.  But I do hope that those of us who are currently called to office (or seeking office) will take this opportunity to re-commit to high standards and best practices.  The world is desperate for leaders who walk the walk.

Amendment 10-A: I predict … ?

So we’ve had the Big Vote in the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Amendment 10-A.  I’ll spare you an explanation, since I think most of my readers are Presbyterians!  But please let me know if you need more information.

In the days and weeks and months leading up to this vote, scores of people have predicted how its passage would either liberate or obliterate the Church.  I think a lot of people view this moment as a prophetic one, as it will reveal the moment we did something awfully heretical, or awfully faithful.

You might have an occasion to think about prophecy this Sunday morning.  One of the Scripture readings for this Sunday, May 15, is Acts 2:42-47.*  This is one of “those” passages that can raise uncomfortable questions about one’s lifestyle.  In a weird way, it is exactly what I needed to hear at this moment.

The early Christians depicted in this passage participated in a shared act of prophecy.  Theirs was prophecy in the true Biblical sense:  a statement of God’s intentions for the world, not necessarily a prediction of the future.

When a believer “does” prophecy, the Spirit speaks a word against human self-absorption and self-indulgence through her.   The believer conveys a godly word of challenge, guidance, and a reminder of who is in charge (and if you need a hint, prophecy reminds us that we are not the ones in charge!)

The early church, filled with elation over the saving act of Jesus Christ,  decided on a prophetic act of self-reliance. They emerged from a socioeconomic system based on legalized inequality and decided to take care of all their members’ needs.  Slavery, usury, and debt — the things that gave the ancient nobles power and  kept the rest of the population from fully prospering — were banished from the early community of believers, as a way of stating that God wishes to banish those things from creation.

The debate continues over the various forms of human bondage and oppression experienced today. In fact, just this evening, the Presbyterian Church (USA) website featured an article on how we can act to eliminate modern-day slavery.  Many American Christians feel that they are theologically oppressed, but there are widely divergent views of what the theological oppression is.  Some will see tonight’s passage of 10-A as a release from the bondage of homophobia in the church, and others will see this event as a descent into the bondage of theological relativism.

The problem for me is, that in the midst of all this, I still feel bound.  From time to time students have asked me about 10-A, and I have almost felt unable to speak.  I’m silent not because I can’t think, but because of what I have witnessed as a campus minister.  Among today’s emerging adults there is a gnawing need to perform, to be accepted, and to be excited — and it’s all combined with true confusion over where they fit in the world.  In the ministry I direct, students have been all over the map in regard to sexuality and intimacy.  Some have come out, others have retracted their coming-out, some have gone too far with a date, and others have been totally unable to find a date.   And no matter what the circumstance, they are incredibly anxious, confused, and desperate for guidance.  Some days I feel like Job’s friends, who, before they smothered him with long speeches, simply sat with him in silence because his suffering was so great.

I’m oddly comforted by the prophetic witness of the early Christians with their shared resources.  There is a way out of bondage!  There is a way to challenge the things that we happily accept because we’re unaware of the chains tightening around us.

And even though prophecy doesn’t always equal telling the future, my big prediction (drum roll) is that we aren’t done yet with larger issues of sexuality.  Until we who call ourselves followers of Christ can free ourselves from the bondage of:

  • the “me-first” approach to relationships;
  • our fear of discussing sex within our homes;
  • our aversion to commitment;
  • our belief that momentary pleasure equals deep spiritual meaning; and
  • a sex-saturated media environment,

we will not be done with this conversation.

I’m ready for a prophetic word on how God wants us to live out the matters of the heart.  If God can challenge the entrenched financial realities of the Roman Empire, surely God can help us learn to be together in a way that God could call good.

I love the church that raised me and I pray for her every day.  May the Holy Spirit continue to speak the needed word to my dear church and to the surrounding world.

* at First Presbyterian we’re actually doing a sermon series, so this week’s Scripture will be from John.