Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pro Ecclesia: For the Church--An Ecumenical Confession


"You are the salt of the earth...
"You are the light of the world..." (Matthew 5:13a,14a, RSV here and following)
God's purposeful love is the starting point for this world. In Genesis, God creates the world and humanity, forming the human person in His image and likeness (1:26-27, 2:7, and 2:21-22). God tells humanity to flourish and multiply, and grants us dominion over all creation (1:28). God empowers humanity to cultivate, and fosters the division of labor that enables us to flourish. Even more, through the prophets and His Son, Jesus Christ, God assists, judges, and blesses humanity's cultural efforts. So by creating culture, we participate in God's love.
But centuries of war, poverty, and oppression, along with momentous achievements in the arts, literature, science, technology, politics, economics, and social organization, attest to the truth that culture -- how a people defines and organizes its life -- is always a flawed project in a fallen world. Therefore, God's purposeful love gathers the Church* to be the primary community through which God's redemptive love in Christ is continuously manifested. The Church is to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world," called to stand both within, and apart from, culture as a herald of God's Word, presence, and power. This calling leads to a divinely designed relationship, and an unavoidable tension, between Church and culture.
Through the ages there is ample evidence of the Church, as the Body of Christ on earth, accepting and fulfilling its commission to go into all the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Humanity has often been blessed by the message and model of grace and truth exhibited by the Church. The Holy Spirit has worked through the Church to embody and advance righteousness, justice, integrity, morality, compassion, and forgiveness, and to remind culture of its dependence upon God's providence, grace, and judgment. However, at times through the ages, the Church has notoriously compromised her faith, witness, and life.
Today many North American churches are dangerously accommodated to excesses of American culture -- secularism, materialism, individualism, consumerism, relativism, and sentimentalism. We, clergy and laity, are complicit. We take responsibility. Too often we lack the faith and courage to be the church that is the Body of Christ in this world. We treat the church as a business to expand, as an organization to promote, as a political lobby, as a therapeutic group. Many clergy and laity now appear apathetic toward the church -- her faith and practice, her message and mission. From years of apathy come the apostasy and atrophy of the church, leading to doctrinal and moral scandals with little communal discipline. Church shopping and schism are taken for granted in American Christianity.
Because of this widespread, cultural accommodation of the churches in the United States, there is an urgent need for confession. When the churches' faith and faithfulness are seriously eroded by cultural compromise, the confession of Gospel truth is compelled by God.
The time has come for American Christians -- clergy and laity, Protestant and Catholic -- to confess Gospel truth about the Church and to reject cultural compromise.
I. Father: Sovereign of the Church
"'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves; because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.'" (Genesis 26:4-5)
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy." (I Peter 2:9-10)
We believe that both the Old Testament and the New Testament reveal God initiating a covenantal relationship with a people -- first with Israel, continuing with the Church. God's relationship with the Church is based not on the merits of the people, but on the steadfast love and missional purpose of Almighty God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
We reject the assumption that the church exists primarily to satisfy the perceived needs of needs-driven individuals. This assumption misunderstands the church to be merely a social organization, in competition with many other such organizations, rather than a people called by Almighty God to covenant.

II. Son: Builder of the Church
"'And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.'" (Matthew 16:18)
We believe the church receives life from God's eternal Word, and Jesus Christ builds the church by working through Spirit-driven, Word-and-Sacrament ministry transforming the Christian community and witnessing to the larger community.
We reject the assumption that the church builds herself by making herself appealing and attractive to the world -- in appearance, in program, and in preaching and teaching. When Jesus Christ is not the church's builder, what is put together in the name of the church is bound to erode over time.
III. Holy Spirit: Sustainer of the Church
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place...And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:1,4a)
" that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." (Ephesians 4:14-16).
We believe the Holy Spirit gives steadying power, increasing faithfulness in love, and organic growth to the church. Since the first Day of Pentecost, God's Spirit has given life, structure, purpose, and direction to the church.
We reject the assumption that the church can measure her own faithfulness, determine her own identity, and set her own course, according to conventional wisdom.
IV. Marks of the Church
"We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church." (The Nicene Creed)
We believe the essential marks of the Church are: unity (see John 17:20-23), holiness (set apart for God's purposes), catholicity (universality in faith, practice, and outreach), and apostolicity (message and mission traceable to the apostles). These marks, given by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-3), evidence the Church's faithful, attentive response to the gracious Headship of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4-7).
We reject the assumption that the church is best defined by diversity, pluralism, and/or inclusivity. The radical hospitality of the church is not to be promoted by limiting or eliminating the transformative power of the Gospel that unifies and enculturates the church, and blesses the world.
V. Mission of the Church
"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)
We believe that the source of the Church's mission is the risen Jesus Christ. The church's mission has many dimensions (worship, evangelism, education, prophetic witness, service, and fellowship), but the mission itself is to "make disciples of all nations..." This mission requires Christian adults to lovingly lead children and youth in obeying Christ and in fulfilling His church's mission.
We reject the assumption that the church's mission is based on American pragmatism. Pragmatism in American Christianity is most often demonstrated today in the rush to offer religious goods and services, to increase institutional security, to adopt fashionable political formulas, and to bend the church's teachings to incorporate certain aspects of culture even when the Scriptures teach otherwise.
VI. Ministry for the Church
"The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men [and women] in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." (Article XIII, Of the Church, The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church [2008]. Most churches have similar doctrinal statements.)
"The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament -- a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity with all men [and women]." (Vatican II, Roman Catholic Church, Lumen gentium 1 [November 21, 1964])
We believe the Church is of God. The faithfulness of the church is made possible by God in Christ working through Word, Sacrament, and Order (including doctrine and morals). As shepherds who are servant leaders of the flock guided by the Holy Spirit, clergy through Word-and-Sacrament ministry serve the church in worship and life. Faithful laity, guided by the Holy Spirit, serve the Gospel in their places in the world, as well as in the church.
We reject the assumption that the ministry of the church, her leaders and people, should rely primarily on organizational, business, or political models, and that the church should preach, teach, and live in a way that seeks to remain culturally inoffensive.
VII. Worship by the Church
"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:31)
"'God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'" (John 4:24)
We believe the church's corporate worship joyfully binds hearts and minds together to praise, glorify, and honor the Triune God. In public worship, the Risen Christ through Word and Sacrament, the means that most profoundly reveal divine grace and truth, encounters the congregation. The centrality and substance of Word and Sacrament are the criteria by which worship is best evaluated.
We reject the assumption that the church's worship should be determined by the expectations of culture, the needs of individual worshipers, and the latest fads in religion.
VIII. Obedience of the Church
"In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6)
In the Baptismal Covenant, church members promise to: renounce and resist evil in this world, confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, be faithful to Christ's universal Church, be loyal to Christ in a particular church (denomination or communion), and participate actively in a congregation. (Most churches have baptismal vows that are similar to the above.)
We believe that faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, clergy and laity, are found in joyful obedience to Christ, in the Holy Spirit's power, through the church's Baptismal Covenant. A disciple's relationship with Jesus Christ is lived out in a covenantal relationship in the Body of Christ, the church.
We reject the assumption that Christian discipleship is basically disconnected from the church, practically devoid of discipline, and fundamentally shaped by individual preferences.
IX. Perseverance of the Church
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
We believe the church can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, be continuously vigilant in: celebrating the God-created goodness of culture, connecting with the elements of culture that reflect Christ and Gospel, and challenging, when necessary condemning, those elements which oppose the Gospel. Remaining faithful, in the cultures of this world, requires the church to strive, struggle, sacrifice, and suffer. Still, the church can be patient and persevering, in the world (Romans 12:1-2), until the King and the Kingdom arrive in glory to perfect all creation and culture.
We reject the assumption that congregational life faithful to Christ and His Church -- at this time, in this place -- is achievable with ease, without God's amazing grace, and with the larger culture's blessing.

*Usually Church (capitalized) indicates the Church universal, and church (lower case) refers to a denomination, communion, or congregation.

Drafting Committee
Mr. John J. Donohue
Morehead City

Rev. Joseph W. Franklin
First United Methodist Church, Morehead City

Rev. Timothy J. Havlicek
First Presbyterian Church, Morehead City

Dr. Ronald N. Montaperto
Morehead City

Rev. Thomas M. Nichols
Midway/Bethlehem United Methodist Churches, Stella

Rev. LaVera Parato
Grace Presbyterian Church, Beaufort

Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth
St. Peter's United Methodist Church, Morehead City

Rev. Norman B. Waligora
Faith Evangelical Bible Church, Newport

Rev. Mark Woods
Cherry Point United Methodist Church, Havelock

Resolution on Ordination Standards

Whereas the new language for the Book of Order (G-6.0106b) states:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body
responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003).
Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

Whereas “all aspects of life” includes, but is not limited to, our relationships to other people, including our marriages, our patterns of behavior, attitudes, and actions,

Whereas Scripture and the Confessions are clear in teaching that leaders are to live according to the direction of Jesus Christ, which includes repentance and separation from lifestyle practices that are clearly rejected by God (I Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:16-26, Book of Confessions 4.108, 9.47),

Whereas Scripture and the Confessions define marriage as being between “male and female” (Matt. 19:4-6, Eph. 5:31-33, Book of Confessions 5.246, 6.131, 6.133)

Whereas the new Form of Government states:
…it is incumbent upon [Church] officers, and upon the whole Church, in whose name
they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing, in all cases, the
rules contained in the Word of God. (F-3.0103)

Whereas Grace Presbyterian Church is committed, as a Presbyterian and Reformed church, to live in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture and be guided by the Reformed Confessions, which teach clearly that the above standard of behavior is one that is held out to all those who confess Jesus Christ;

Be it therefore resolved that Grace Presbyterian Church will continue to maintain the biblical, historic, and Reformed teaching of the church universal regarding the call of the Christian to a life of holiness which includes the call to live either with fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness, and further that Grace Presbyterian will require that all those ordained to church office must live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness, and that those who do not or will not live so shall not be ordained and/or installed as ministers, deacons, or elders.

Approved by the Session on the 20th day of June in the Year of Our Lord 2011.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Proclaim the Gospel, Mark 16:14-20