Monday, December 17, 2007

Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?

Presbyterian Outlook: Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?:
"A new issue has popped up in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mission Presbytery recently: should a person have to confess to the belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to become a member of a church?

The issue arose when Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, joined St. Andrew’s Church in Austin, Texas, in 2005, and later declared in a published article that he does not believe in Jesus, or God, at all. When Mission Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry researched whether or not there are questions in the Book of Order on joining the membership of a church, they found such questions — at least as required in an explicit formula — are not there."
I will grant that a specific list of questions to be asked is not present, but the Book of Order IS explicit about what it takes to be a member of a Presbyterian Church:
"The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church."

Book of Order G-5.0101a
I don't see how this statement can be parsed in any way that permits an avowed atheist to gain membership to a Presbyterian church.

The last I heard of this particular embarrassment was that a higher judicatory directed the session of St. Andrews to drop Jensen from the active roll and leave him on the baptized member roll, since he was baptized as a child. I have not heard whether this order has been implemented or not.

People I know rather well had attended St. Andrews in Austin and figured out quickly that this was not where they were at, so they sought another congregation. In their years in Austin they learned that this particular church and minister had a reputation for such behavior.

Mission Presbytery (where this all transpired) has proposed an amendment to the Book of Order that would add questions to be asked of members:
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
I do, by God’s grace.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Many congregations, including my own, already ask similar questions. They seem to be reasonable implementations of the requirements for membership as specified in G-5.0101a, and serve to underscore the the fact that membership is for the entire Church, much as ordination is for the whole Church.

In the my congregation, the first question (Who is your Lord and Savior?) is also asked of parents presenting their children for baptism, and it may be the only question asked of Presbyterians where a complete sentence is called for. The constitutional questions for ordination require a simple "I do" or "I will" as a response.

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