I picked up a book today in my pastor’s office entitled “Selecting an Evangelical Pastor…A Lay Perspective: A Guide for Pastor Nominating Committees” by Robert B. Fish. The title pretty much explains the purpose of the book, and I began to flip through it. Let me say first that it was published by the Presbyterian Lay Committee (aka, The Layman).
On the first page of the preface, Robert L. Howard, former Chairman of The Presbyterian Lay Committee, states: “Of the 50 congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with the highest average weekly worship attendance, 47 have evangelical pastors. Evangelical pastors grow churches in maturity and numbers. That’s why we believe so strongly that evangelical pastoral leadership is indispensable if your congregation really wants to be serious about fulfilling the great ends of the church” (50).
The book discusses theology and the importance of finding a near-perfect match, theologically, between a pastor and a calling congregation [good, well, that will definitely help everyone if a congregation finds a pastor that will tell them just what they’ve been hearing and want to hear].
Just last night, I began a series of discussions with my high school group on “The Essentials of the Faith.” I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’m always annoyed when people use the term “the essentials of the faith” because — really, who will ever agree on them? What is essential to me, will not be essential to you, etc. But in this book, they have “the essentials of the faith” laid out for me. They are as follows:
`The one true God is the Triune God of Grace: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whom alone we must worship and serve
`The Eternal Son of God came to us as a human being in Jesus Christ
`Holy Scripture is the Word of God written, through which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we truly meet the Triune God
`The Triune God is Sovereign over all
`Humanity has fallen into sin
`We are made right with God by Grace alone through Faith alone
`Election: God chose us to be His children and servants
`The Holy Spirit makes us more and more like Jesus
`A life of obedience
There they are. They also list the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives that all Presbyterians looking to be ordained should basically adhere to. This document was put together in June 2003 by the Presbytery of San Diego:
::Authority of Scripture
::God (Trinity, Creation, Providence, Sovereignty)
::Humanity – Original Righteousness and Fall into Sin
::Jesus Christ – Incarnation of the Eternal Word
::Jesus Christ – His Atoning Work
::Salvation by Grace through Faith
::Election for Salvation and Service
::Covenant and Covenant Life
::Sanctification and the Work of the Holy Spirit
::Priesthood of All Believers
::Mission of the Church
After doing overview theology, it goes into sections on interviewing pastoral candidates. It mentions certain phrases that are “red flag” statements, certain words and ideas (liberation theology, feminist theology, postmodern) that are words to watch out for. It then gives us a few definitions of ideas and categories of classification (as well as the era to which they belong):
Evangelical :: experiencing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and seeking to follow His will as revealed in the Bible and set forth in the confessions (pre-modern)
Conservative :: Upholding the traditional doctrines of historic Christianity based on Scripture (pre-modern)
Liberal :: Seeking to mold Scripture to fit culture and today’s thinking, rather than the other way around (post-modern)
Reformed :: Believing that five truths – T.U.L.I.P. – are essential to an understanding of Christianity (pre-modern)
Fundamentalist (pre-modern), Natural theology (post-modern), Pluralism (post-modern), Pantheism (post-modern), Liberation/feminist/sexual/process theology (post-modern)
And then, one of my favorite quotes: “And while there may seem to be a lot of currents within theology, basically, there are two main positions – evangelical or liberal. The primary difference between the two…is their understanding of the Bible. The liberal sees the Bible as ‘containing‘ the Word of God, while the evangelical sees the Bible as ‘The‘ Word of God” (98). Talk about an either/or situation – you are either evangelical, or you are liberal.
Then it gives sample questions to ask candidates, along with an analysis of their possible answers. One of my favorites was the following question and comments:
Tell us about your doctrine of the Atonement.
There are two basic views on the sacrifice of Christ. The historic view is that Jesus actually died as our substitute, that He actually suffered the penalty of sin for us. The “moral influence” theory states that Jesus’ death was not payment for anyone’s sins, but only a selfless act of love designed to inspire us to be better people and to be reconciled to God. (Actually, if you take away the truth that Jesus died for our sin, then the cross no longer is a moral influence, but a meaningless tragedy.) See whether a candidate believes that Jesus’ death had anything to do with the forgiveness of sin or not.
It’s been a few years since I took Christian Doctrine at Whitworth, but I think I learned more than simply two theories on the doctrine of the atonement. And this book is encouraging PNCs (Pastor Nominating Committees) to theologically dismiss a candidate unless he holds to one theory of the atonement, dismissing the moral influence theory, and any others, as liberal…
Two more quotes, and then I’ll bring this to a close.
“Being an ordained Presbyterian means doing ministry within specific theological boundaries: In becoming a candidate or officer in the Presbyterian Church (USA), one chooses to exercise freedom of conscience within certain bounds” (148). Doing ministry and theology within a set of boundaries…even the word “boundary” sounds constricting…I know, it’s there to make sure we pastors don’t all become heretics, but is bordering on heresy bad all the time? Are the boundaries set because there is fear of heresy? Fear of pastors getting creative with their theology, to the point where it could be getting close to heresy?
“…But when a person chooses to be an ordained Presbyterian, they must in good faith and with a clear conscience receive and adopt our confessional identity. We do not have the right to pick and choose the foundational truths we will believe in, with the expectation that other foundational truths can be ignored or will soon be changed. That is bad faith” (149). When I read this, I just kept thinking about Grenz’s book “Beyond Foundationalism”…
So what in the heck does all of this have to do with me?
In less than 2 months, I plan to be enrolled as an Inquirer, which is the 1st phase in becoming ordained in the PC(USA). I will be meeting with my church’s Session, the Committee on Ministry (COM) and Presbytery. My pastor just recently became the head of COM/CPM. He wants our Presbytery to adopt the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives document as something that will help get a feel for where candidates are at, theologically, and whether or not they are eligible for ministry as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA).
And I’m just thinking…I know that I will not leave Princeton Theological Seminary holding all of the same beliefs as when I entered. After 3-4 years of theological reflection, discussions, education, I know some things will change. I don’t know what – but if I did leave exactly the same as when I entered, it would be a pretty bad waste of time. So, where does that leave me with my COM/CPM?
Will my theological progression/maturity be a source of conflict with committees and with the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives? If so, how do I deal with that? And what the heck does it mean to be Presbyterian, really? Has anyone been through this process? Would you be willing to share insights into your experience with COMs/CPMs?