Saturday, August 27, 2005

Task Force on Peace and Purity -- Impressions

After reading the Final Report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, my first impression is that is little different than what we already acknowledge through Scripture, Book of Confessions, and Book of Order.

After reading the proposed Authoritative Interpretation I believe that it neither promotes nor discourages "local option." Elsewhere in the report it is clear that that it is not intended that anything in the report should be inferred as supporting "local option", and I am willing to accept that.

The charge to the task force encompassed four areas:
The task force was charged to lead the church “in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and for the 21st century.” Four issues were named for specific attention: Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, ordination, and power. The task force was not asked to resolve all the controversial issues in the church or to relieve the church of all conflict. Rather, the task force was asked to help the church deal with current and future conflicts more faithfully. (emphasis mine)
The sections on Christology and Biblical Authority seem fairly orthodox, although people with different perspectives may find different ways they would have preferred it to be written. I thought the following section on Biblical interpretation was pretty close to my own views:
We also reviewed classic guidelines for interpretation that Presbyterians share despite diversity of perspective on the nature and authority of Scripture. These include:
  • The centrality of Jesus Christ
  • The priority of the plain sense of the text
  • Interpretation of Scripture by Scripture
  • The rule of love
  • The rule of faith
The final section of the report is worth quoting in its entirety:

VI: A Final Word

This entire report has as its premise that a season of discernment is due in the church, one that all the task force’s recommendations are intended to support. We have
  • recommended that the church remain united and strengthen its internal partnerships;
  • suggested that Presbyterians form and support communities of discernment;
  • offered a Theological Reflection that is the result of our own search for Christian identity;
  • urged governing bodies to use a variety of methods, the better to discern the will of God;
  • recommended a return to traditional methods of making ordination decisions that put discernment at the center; and
  • suggested that if these measures are adopted, the church seek to create new patterns of interaction and to increase mutual understanding before engaging in processes of constitutional change.

Life together in a discernment mode has the potential to be more constructive and less difficult than our current pattern of head-to-head confrontation over issues. The purpose of discernment, however, is not to minimize critical issues in order to get on to other matters, much less to make life more pleasant. The purpose, rather, is to know, in our very being as a church, the peace, unity, and purity that have been given to us in Jesus Christ, and to show that peace, unity, and purity to the world we have been commissioned to teach and serve.

Therefore, our denominational struggle to live into the fullness of the gift we have in Jesus Christ is not a diversion from our true mission, as some would claim, but integral to our vocation to proclaim the truth of the gospel. On the night before he died, in the longest prayer recorded in the Gospels, Jesus prayed for us, the church of the future, lifting our names and our troubled church before God in prayer. And chief among his petitions in our behalf was his prayer that we “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….By this everyone will know that you are my disciples [he said], if you have love for one another” (John 17:21; John 13:35). How is the world to be challenged to know the truth about God? The world needs not only to hear our witness to the gospel, but also to see and experience the embodied witness of a community joined in love of one another.

Jesus does not, it should be noted, pray that we may all be the same or that we all agree. Indeed, one of the most compelling reasons to continue to hold on to one another is to persuade one another of the truth as God has given us to know it. Another is to strengthen and support one another, different as our vocations and life circumstances may be, in personal holiness and in service to a world riddled with suffering and injustice. Nevertheless, even as we differ and even as we contend with one another, Jesus prays that we may all be one, that we might love one another despite many differences that threaten to divide us. At a time when people readily kill one another over their differences, a church that lives and works for that kind of witness will capture the attention of a polarized world. What besides the mystery of divine love could give us the capacity to love those whose goals and views differ from, even contradict, our own?

The task force is convinced that the world is watching the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations as we engage in highly publicized debates. To be one is not to say that we will be the same, that we will all agree, that there will be no conflict, but as the church listens to Jesus pray, all its members are reminded that the quality of our life together—our ability to make visible the unique relationship that is ours in Jesus Christ—is compelling testimony to the truth and power of the gospel we proclaim.
I have heard it said, that with all the Presbyterians involved with the formation of our nation, the greatest gift we gave the newly formed United States was its form of government. In my more cynical moments I have expressed the opinion that in return, we took on the US Congress' style of debate. Maybe this report, especially the last section, can help us to show that we follow the Risen Lord by honoring his prayer that we all be one, and that we love one another -- even in our diversity.

No comments: