- Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
- Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
- Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
As I indicated in a prior posting, since these are constitutionally required to be answered in the affirmative, a reasonable person can assume that they are essential. This assumption relies on the integrity of the examination process and the honesty of the person being ordained or installed. With regard to the third question, for all intents the PC(USA) allows a wink and a nudge to cloud the honesty of the answer, through the various public pronouncements that, since the "essentials" are not enumerated in the Book of Order, then they don't really exist.
I disagree. Common sense and the plain meaning of the English language shows us a number of essentials that ARE enumerated in the Book of Order. Jack B. Rogers, a former moderator of General Assembly, wrote a book shortly following the reunion called Presbyterian Creeds -- A Guide to the Book of Confessions (Westminster John Knox 1985, revised 1991). This book provides much historical information about the various creeds and what it was they were providing to the Church. Rogers also speaks of the essentials of the Reformed Faith, and identifies ten that are identified in the Book of Order (G-2.0000-2.0400):
- The mystery of the Trinity
- The incarnation of Jesus Christ
- Justification by grace through faith
- Scripture as the final authority
- God's Sovereignty
- God's choosing of people for salvation and service (election)
- The covenant life of the Church, ordering itself according to the Word of God
- A faithful stewardship of God's creation
- The sin of idolatry, which makes anything created ultimate, rather than worshipping only the Creator
- The necessity of obedience to the Word of God, which directs us to work for justice in the transformation of society
The first two are shared with the Church Universal. The second two are distinctive to the Reformation, and the remaining six are characteristic of the Reformed Church, but not unique to it.
Rogers does not provide a comprehensive list, nor does he delve very deeply into the "mystery of the trinity" and other theological issues -- but it is a start, and demonstrates far more intellectual integrity than the glib statement that there are no essentials.
Sessions need to provide a meaningful orientation for newly-elected elders as well as elders who are called again to active service. This orientation should consist of a study of the Scriptural basis for elders as well as an introduction to the confessions and the Book of Order. Roger's book could be useful here. Another book that could be quite useful is Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers, by the current General Assembly Moderator Joan Gray.
Speaking as an elder who was ordained in 1974 by the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, I was not well-prepared to take on the office of ruling elder. It really wasn't until a subsequent installation in the early 1990's that I began to think about just what it was I was agreeing to. On my own, I read Scripture, the Book of Confessions, and the Book of Order, prayed, and did a lot of thinking to the point where I felt that I could answer all the questions with an honest "I Do" or "I Will". I feel this has made me more open to God's call in my life, and it also encourages me to continue learning and studying.