Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Refreshing Revisions: PCUSA Book of Order as Missional Theology?

If you have had any conversations with me about theology, missional vocations, social and political issues, and the prophetic nature of the church and biblical witness, then you may find it obscure for me to make a post about Part II of the PCUSA Constitution, i.e. The Book of Order. In fact, I also am quite amused by the hilarity of God and God's ability to lead me to read what I once wrote off as superfluity. I can still hear some of the echoes of my colleagues in ministry, Greg, just read it. I think you may actually like it. Yet, I wanted to wait until the newest edition came out, which did as of July 10, 2011, not only to be relevant and because of its slightly condensed nature, but also because this is the edition that I will be tested on come time for ordination exams. In other words, no sense in reading BOO twice...that would be superfluity.

I have written before about how I do indeed appreciate the language and contextual tradition of the Reformed Faith that frames my PCUSA denomination. In all sincerity, I have developed quite a love and fascination for the confessional history, especially what comes to us in Part I of the Constitution. i.e. The Book of Confessions. I have even taught a course on the relationship between the Missional Church and Reformed Theology, which significantly engaged the Confessions. I would even consider myself a "Reformed theologian." However, The Book of Order always frightened me. Then I began to read it. Speaking of confessions, I confess that I have not made it past the first eight pages. In fact, I have found myself so enamored by these pages that I have read and re-read, dare I say meditated, on these pages and left unable to move forward. Yes, it is true, The Book of Order is Missional Theology, at least the first eight pages. Moreover, I am confident that I could post citations, which I will, and those familiar with the current conversations related to missional theology and church paradigms, would probably attirbute them to the likes of Barth, Guder, Wright, Keesmaat, McLaren, or Brueggemann.[2] But alas, they are from the section, "The Mission of the Church." Furthermore, in great missional reformation, the section that was previously buried after "Preliminary Principles," now holds a position of primacy, i.e. it is the first section to be read. I am eager to continue to explore this once feared and dreaded text. Even more, my hope and prayer is for the language and witness of the PCUSA Book of Order to move off the shelves, be rid of their dust, and begin to [or continue, depending on context] form the church for real incarnations of gospel witness in and for the world. Then we may begin [or continue] to live into the old language from the previous edition of BOO, "The Church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all of humanity."[1]

For now, here are a few excerpts from the first eight pages...maybe I can now read further? Maybe you can join me in this missional adventure...

A PDF of the 2011-2013 Edition

"The mission of God in Christ gives shape an substance to the life and work of the Church. In Christ, the Church participates in God's mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God's love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God's mission." (F-1.01)

"The Church's life and mission are a joyful participation in Christ's ongoing ife and work." (F-1.02)

"In Christ's name, therefore, the Church is sent out to bear witness to the good news of reconciliation with God, with others, and with all creation." (F-1.0205)

"The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation." (F-1.0301)

"The Church seeks to include all people and is never content to enjoy its benefits of Christian community for itself alone." (F-1.0302)

"The holiness of the Church comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions." (F-1.0302, b)

"In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God's redemption of all things and people." (F- 1.0302, d)

"The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God's new creation, God's kingdom drawing the present into itself." (F-1.0302, d)

[1] I do grieve, however, that this brilliant and beautiful line was removed, at least stated differently, in the latest edition. I will still use it, that's for sure.
[2] This is most likely the case because the 'missional church' conversation is nothing new. Instead, it is the recovery of what always has been and the challenge to live into it with faithfulness, integrity, and a real conviction that the church is called not to glory, but to solidarity with the gospel that is first and foremost for the poor and oppressed and then also for the whole world. However, as the church has become so entrenched within and wed to Christendom and other incarnations of empire, the missional nature of the Church has often been expended, because it demands that the Church carry a cross of suffering versus wield a sword of power. I will save these thoughts for a post to come on Douglas John Hall's, The Cross in our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World

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