Monthly Archives: September 2011

Christ is the Head, We are the Body

F-1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body…Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God…Scripture teaches us of Christ’s will for the Church, which is to be obeyed. In the worship and service of God and the government of the church, matters are to be ordered according to the Word by reason and sound judgment, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…In affirming with the earliest Christians that Jesus is Lord, the Church confesses that he is its hope, and that the Church, as Christ’s body, is bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God…In Christ the Church receives its truth and appeal, its holiness ̧ and its unity.

I have never met anyone who has disputed (effectively) that when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we are the “Body of Christ” he named our relationship to one another and Christ in a way that cannot be bested. No other way of describing who it is we are has stood the test of scrutiny. No other designation even comes close.

Explicit in Paul’s writing is the way we are in relationship to one another. The passage is famous for its rhetorical questions of who can or cannot be a part of the Body. I love how the passage from 1 Corinthians attacks both the assumptions we make of ourselves as well as the ones we make about others. I’m sure you have heard countless sermons or Sunday School lessons about this passage.

But how many have you heard about Christ as the Head of this Body called the Church? I can’t think of a one myself. Those of you that can probably counted the instances on one hand.

The quotes above from the Book of Order are true, and I doubt any of us need to defend or even explain them. We all affirm that everything is under the Lordship of Christ (“Jesus is Lord” is the ultimate and only necessary confession of faith). It makes sense to us that, if Christ is Lord, we are given all we need to accomplish the mission we have been given. It also makes sense that if we are bound to Christ we will experience the freedom of God and will be reconciled to God through Christ.

But what has recently become startlingly clear to me is not just that Christ is the head of the Church, but how.

I don’t know why it took me so long to read Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, but since I did a couple months ago, I have had my entire perspective on the world changed. Friedman says many good and true things, but the one that affected me the most was his brief explanation of the relationship between the head and the body. On pages 16-17, he writes:

Recent findings about the brain-body connection have potential to revolutionize our concept of hierarchy. For they suggest that to a large extent we have a liquid nervous system. The brain turns out to function like a gland. It is the largest organ of secretion, communicating simultaneously with various parts of the body, both near and far, through reciprocal transmission of substances known as neurotransmitters. In other words, the head is present in the body!

So, too, the connection between a “head” and its body in any family or institution is not necessarily a function of proximity. The functioning of a “head” can systematically influence all parts of a body, and totally bypass linear, “head-bone-connected-to-the-neck-bone” thinking. What counts is the leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how. (emphasis mine)

When I read that, my jaw dropped, and I immediately thought of how God “has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body.” Friedman claims that the connection is not based on physical proximity. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see a physical Jesus standing before us. What counts is that Christ has risen – He is risen, indeed. :)  – and that his being is in our consciousness. This is why the BOO makes it clear that it is Scripture which provides the connection to Christ. It is through Scripture that we know of the being of Christ and are reminded of his presence with us.

And does anyone else see some parallels between the “brain communicating with various parts of the body, both near and far, through secretions” and “Christ communing with various parts of the body, both near and far, through the Holy Spirit which has proceeded from the Father and the Son”?

No? Just me?

Oh. Okay. :)

God’s Mission is Our Mission

F-1.01 God’s Mission

The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people…The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church…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.

One of the more beautiful changes to the Form of Government (FOG) – in my opinion – is the creation of a new section, titled, “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity.” While one would never want to accuse the previous FOG of not being theological (that would be a foolish claim), the new “Foundations” section does the church a service by separating the more explicitly theological and ideological claims made in the FOG, making even more clear that the community we are called to be a part of is one which has a center to which we are true.

When ever I have taught an introduction to Reformed theology, I use the analogy that our Western alphabet begins with A and ends with Z. Likewise, I tell my students, our “theological alphabets” also have an A and a Z. Yes, the letter L is just as important as A is, but when going through the alphabet, everyone must begin with the letter A. Everything is seen through the lens of the letter A.

In our Reformed Confessional tradition, I maintain that “God’s Sovereign Grace” is the A of our theological alphabet – the lens through which all other theological claims are seen. Similarly, in our Presbyterian political tradition, I want to claim that the Mission of this God of Sovereign Grace is the A of our Form of Government. We cannot understand anything we do as a church apart from what God is already doing.

The FOG begins with the claim that what God is up to is creating, redeeming, sustaining, ruling, and transforming everything. At whatever point of creation’s existence, God is making all things new and whole. This, the FOG says, is “the good news of the Gospel”, and it is is this good news that gives the church both shape and substance – form and function.

When considering the polity of a gathered community, it is not possible to ascertain whether it is the form of the community or the function of the community that “comes first,” for that is a false choice. One does not determine the other. They both are determined by the Gospel. Not only is the church a body which seeks to participate in God’s mission, the church is the place where God’s mission is made actual.

As a foundation of our polity, the FOG asserts that there is nothing more significant than the covenant that God established with us. God has said “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” and the ultimate goal of our lives should be to live this reality and all that it implies. This should guide the life of our congregations, presbyteries, synods, and general assembly. One SoMA congregation, First Presbyterian Church in Liberty, MO (where I was privileged to serve for 4.5 years) proclaims it this way:

This church does not exist for itself, but for the sake of the world for which Christ lived, loved, and died. Everything we do in worship, study, and fellowship is for the sake of serving the world in all it’s brokenness and need.

I can think of nothing more to say to that than “Amen.”

Your small church could also have a full time pastor!

I am sitting at the Fall meeting of the Committee on Theological Education, and we were just showed a video of a fantastic program, For Such a Time as This.

For Such a Time as This: A Small Church Residency — Growing Leaders, Growing Churches is a timely and innovative program that pairs small, underserved congregations with recent seminary graduates in a two-year pastoral residency relationship during which they are supported and guided by a network of pastor/mentors, presbytery, seminary, and national church leaders.

One of our member presbyteries, Heartland Presbytery, is already significantly invested in this new venture, with two different pastors participating. One of those, Rev. Jason Ku, is serving First Presbyterian in Holden, MO. The Holden church has seen significant success in growing Christ’s church both deep and wide.

Click here to watch the promotional video (featuring both Rev. Ku and Heartland’s Executive Presbyter, Rev. Charles Spencer).

If you or your church is interested in either participating in or giving to the program visit the For Such a Time as This website.

New FOG, New Clerk

As of July 10, 2011, the Presbyterian Church (USA) began operating under the provisions laid out in an almost completely new form of government (commonly referred to as nFOG). As of August 1, 2011, I assumed the role of “Stated Clerk” for the SoMA. A new FOG. A new clerk. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a blog series, doesn’t it?

As I have traveled around the denomination as the Vice Moderator of your General Assembly, one thing I have heard consistently is that Presbyteries and congregations are anxious as they consider how to live into the new reality that our Book of Order presents us with. These anxieties are as complex as developing a manual of operations (many councils of the church have simply relied on the processes and procedures laid out in the BOO) to simple taks such as developing a sexual misconduct policy (“We’ve never had one. What does a template look like?”). Just yesterday, I was with Kendall Presbytery as they took action similar to one that the SoMA took: For the time being, let’s continue to operate under the old FOG whenever the nFOG leaves us hanging.

To be sure, the nFOG doesn’t “leave anyone hanging” (and those are my words, btw), but many are just not ready for the dramatic shift towards the freedom offered by nFOG.

In light of all of this, I believe it would be helpful for us to work our way through the nFOG, bit by bit. Yes, there are webinars you can take advantage of (the Presbyterian Outlook has already done one, and Dubuque Seminary will host a course beginning tomorrow), but, as the SoMA’s Clerk, I’m not sure that there is a better use of my time than leading our synod through a reflection of the document.

My hope is that this series will become a couple of things. First, I pray that it is a conversation between Presbyterians. This Form of Government belongs to all of us. While the reality of being “Clerk” means that it is my job to know this document intimately, as Presbyterians it remains the responsibility of all of us.  Secondly, I intend for this to be more than a dry examination of how the pieces and parts fit together. The Book of Order is a document which expresses a “theology in practice.” I want us to help each other know why we do what we do theologically.

So please join me as we make our way through our constitution. Perhaps you will find that you too consider yourself a “church geek.” There are worse things, you know? :)