Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Pastoral Response

In a recent article in the Presbyterian Outlook, Jack Haberer decries the presbyteries who have passed resolutions to abide by the ordination standards in the Book of Order. He states, "Well intended as they are, these overtures miss the real spirit of the work of the Theological Task Force."

I must admit that I am unsure what the real spirit of the work of the Theological Task Force is. The task force members argued that we shouldn’t find legislative solutions to our problems, yet they recommended a byzantine Authoritative Interpretation that most still don’t understand. They were charged to lead the church in theological reflection, yet they merely produced a report with policy recommendations. They claim that they want governing bodies to apply "group discernment methods," yet when sessions and presbyteries try to discern what God wills for the church, they are accused of missing the point.

As I read the task force report, the focus is clearly on ordination standards. The report culminates in that Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108. Assuming the best intentions of the task force, the report seems to suggest that ordinations must occur on a case-by-case basis. That no belief or conduct should presumptuously exclude a candidate for ministry. According to the report, standards are aspirational. Only after careful examination, should a determination be made if a candidate meets the standards. I can agree with much of this. This is simply pastoral. A candidate who differs with a minor theological point may not necessarily be in violation of the ordination standards. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t suggest that there are only shades of gray. The candidate who claims that the universe was sneezed out of the Great Green Arkleseizure and fears the coming of the Great White Handkerchief would be readily dismissed.

However, the task force went further. In it’s rationale for the Authoritative Interpretation, the task force suggests that governing bodies must determine whether a departure from the standards violates the “essentials of faith and polity.” Only if a violation of standards is such a departure will the candidate be automatically disqualified. The task force members seem to want congregations and presbyteries to debate what constitutes an essential at every examination.

Beyond making a mockery of the constitution, this is a horrible way to treat candidates. Every examination has the potential to move beyond the candidate’s life and faith. Moreover, two candidates with the same qualifications might receive different treatment based on a prejudicial whim. Those presbyteries and sessions who have passed resolutions have acted pastorally. They have removed the rancorous debate away from the time of a candidate’s examination. They have leveled the playing field for all candidates. If necessary, these resolutions can be re-examined and modified again and again. Jack Haberer suggests that those who pass such resolutions and overtures reject grace for the sake of polity. I do not see how a desire for coherence, clarity, and civil discussion is contrary to grace.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Welcome to the Presbyterian Church

Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, and we spent time in our Sunday School classes to teach about Communion.

I was in a class of third graders. In our discussion of how "Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers," one boy asked if Holy Grail was real.

I said, "Yes, if you mean did Jesus actually drink from a cup at the last Supper. However, the stories of King Arthur and the Grail were legends, and there is nothing magical about the cup. What’s more important is that Holy Communion is one of the ways that the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus and each other."

To which, the children began quoting from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!" Every eight-year-old child, including the girl, was a Monty Python fan. Welcome to the Presbyterian Church!