Sunday, November 6, 2011

Questions are usually more honest than answers

While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.  So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” - Acts 10

A church not afraid of hard questions
Last Thursday, during my Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) meeting, we asked the inquirers a series of questions.
When it was my turn I fished around in my head for the right words to get at a particular concern I have vis-a-vis the PC(USA) denomination (Presbyterian). To my mind it is very important that the folk we approve avoid the pitfalls of pre-conclusive dogma and that they possess the confidence of faith to engage in some honest wrestling when it comes to difficult issues.

"I think we can all agree," I said, "that the Presbyterian Church is better understood as a collection of questionsthan it is a set of answers. Understanding that tension as a given, and in light of the fact that you have enjoyed a variety of church experiences over the years, why have you chosen to seek ordination in the PC(USA) tradition?"

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13): We went on, of course, to have an excellent discussion. But I'm sharing the beginning of the exchange here because I want to highlight this statement: "The Church is best understood as a collection of questions than it is a set of answers."

This is one reason my home congregation (First Presbyterian Church of Brandon) fought so hard to survive in 1971, after half the members and most of the money went two miles down the road to start a church that was markedly less Presbyterian - just one more version of a non-Presbyterian church flavor that has been repeated almost a hundred times (and on pretty-much every second street corner) around this community?

On the road together...
To be Presbyterian means (among other things):
  • To be a faithful follower of Jesus and to be guided by the authority of God's Word.
  • To be willing to disagree when it comes to tough questions and difficult interpretations.
  • To recognize that good people of good faith can be all over the place when it comes to good answers.
  • To own the fundamental truth that none of us can claim to be 100% right all of the time!
  • To respect the integrity of the process when decisions don't go our way.
When someone insists that he (and it's almost always going to be a "he") represents God's definitive view on an issue, and that contrary opinions (those that don't fall into line as "like-minded") are - by definition - categorically against the will of God, and that the only way to be in fellowship with one another is by having "like-mindedness"... well, at that point it's going to be hard to convince me that they're not simply another variation of the "I'm right - you're wrong" church that split away from First Brandon 40 years ago, because it turns out they really didn't want to be Presbyterian...

If Jesus declares someone clean... The other day I interviewed a new pastor who had just moved to town (the story will be in the Brandon News in a couple of weeks). She is deeply committed to social justice, is captured by how wide God opened the door of love to invite her in, and believes with every fiber of her being that her role is always to be invitational rather than exclusionary.

"If I ever make a mistake in my theology," she told me, "I'd much rather I erred in the direction of inclusion rather than closing the door on someone Jesus loves every bit as much as he loves me."

In the name of that kind of love - DEREK

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