The 218th General Assembly in San Jose did a remarkable and wonderful thing. The commissioners discerned a way for theological conservatives and theological progressives to co-exist. Moreover, they found a way for all of us to move forward together in mission as one church. Now you probably didn’t hear that in the news reports from the Assembly which focused on who won and who lost and what’s next. However, I think we will look back on this assembly as the start of a new era in the denomination.
The two big themes to come out of the Assembly were the emphasis on creating a missional church and the passage of several overtures to grant equal rights to our church members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
Those who see themselves as theological conservatives want us to be a “missional church.” Indeed it is clear from the Assembly that this goal is widely shared across the denomination. But what exactly does it mean to be a missional church? Well for one thing it means to be evangelical – to share the gospel of Jesus with others. “Missional” also means that the church should be woven into the very fabric of the community.
The most recent General Assembly made several important moves towards becoming a more missional church. The Assembly took steps towards adopting a new Form of Government with the goal of becoming more missional at every level of the denomination. The national leadership in Louisville has embraced a missional approach through hiring several leading evangelicals who are dedicated to creating a missional church. Indeed, the General Assembly Council has renamed itself the General Assembly Mission Council and has committed to working with congregationally-based local leadership to find new ways to work together in missions. Creating a more missional church is exactly what we should be doing. It reflects our deepest values and brings us together in a common focus. I believe it will be invigorating for the denomination and life-giving for our communities and the world.
Yet, what was extraordinary about this assembly is that collectively the majority of commissioners seemed to recognize, on some level, that in order to create a missional church we have to grant equal rights to our members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The two issues are interconnected. Think about it – if the goal is for the church to be woven into the very fabric of society – we can’t have preconceived notions about our neighbors. We have to go out with open hearts to preach and practice the message that we are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Affirming the equality of all God’s people is a prerequisite for reaching out in Christian service to all God’s people. So the GA approved overtures to grant equal rights to people who are LGBT and also approved steps to create a more missional church. In so doing, I believe the Assembly found a new way forward.
Now this conversation moves to the Presbyteries to either affirm or reject the practical compromise crafted by the Assembly. If a majority of Presbyteries vote yes to approve the revised language of G-6.0106b, I believe we will finally be able to move forward together again as one family in mission. I would encourage everyone in the denomination to read the text of the Boston overture (item number [05-09] from the Church Orders and Ministry Committee) which was approved by the Assembly. Consistent with the Reformed tradition, the revised text affirms the essentials of our faith:
“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the Constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions…”
I believe this revised text regarding ordination puts the focus exactly where it should be – on Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Confessions – the essential values at the center of our theological tradition.
Look, I understand that there are going to be some who are resistant to change. That will be true of any change. But after 30 years of discussion, study, and prayer, I believe this GA has come up with a workable compromise that incorporates the best of the conservative and progressive approaches to theology. I think it offers the best hope in a generation for this church to finally move forward together in mission. I sincerely hope that a majority of Presbyteries will vote yes and embrace the opportunity to move forward together once again.
Moderator, the 213th General Assembly