Awhile ago while looking through the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order (BOO), I ran across this section:
G-3.0401 Called to Openness: The Church is called
- to a new openness to the presence of God in the Church and in the world, to more fundamental obedience, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work;
- to a new openness to its own membership, by affirming itself as a community of diversity, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, and conditions, and by providing for inclusiveness as a visible sign of the new humanity;
- to a new openness to the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms in order to ensure the faithfulness and usefulness of these forms to God’s activity in the world;
- to a new openness to God’s continuing reformation of the Church ecumenical, that it might be a more effective instrument of mission in the world.
While I’m aware this may not be that interesting to my non-Presbyterian friends, I think this is an important section of the BOO that I don’t hear all that often. There are a few things in here that I find very promising and hopeful, and I’d like to touch on those briefly.
Openness to the Presence of God
This is an encouragement to continue to be open to the presence of God, wherever God may be. I don’t think we allow God to surprise us enough these days, and while many of us like to think we’re open to experiencing God in new ways, I don’t know that we really are. Of course, this goes both ways. I also need to be open to the presence and Spirit of God being in places that I may not want to go, or with people who I may not agree with.
We indeed need to continue to have an openness when it comes to the membership of the church, and to committing ourselves to being a community of diversity. As we live in an increasingly multicultural world, our churches should also be representative of that, not homogeneous gatherings. I like that language: providing for inclusiveness as a visible sign of the new humanity. As we continue to bring God’s radical love and grace into the world, it should lead us to a place where we are more accepting, more loving, more open to the ways in which God works in all people.
Openness to the Possibilities and Perils of its Institutional Forms
As we continue to move more and more into a post-denominational Christian world, I think we certainly need to keep this in mind. Yes, there are possibilities for the institutional church – there are ways in which it may still serve to be a tool for effective change in the world. However, those possibilities continue to decrease, and more and more, people are becoming aware of the perils of denominational and institutional structures. I don’t know that people in Louisville necessarily are, but clearly people today have issues with institutions. Institutions were once extremely effective in bringing about the kingdom of God in the world; it could be argued they do not have the place in society anymore. What does that mean for the future of the institutional church? Clearly, there is some future. There are still millions of members, millions of dollars. But I’m just not sure how much stock future generations will put in these institutions.
New Openness to God’s Continuing Reformation of the Church
As someone who is invested in the presbymergent conversation, this is clearly something we presbymergents care deeply about. It is our hope, as loyal radicals, to be those who stay on the inside to work to bring about creative, emergent expressions of our historic faith. The Presbyterian sense of the church reformed and always reforming comes into play here. Again, as I’ve mentioned before, we have done a great job of being Reformed, but have not allowed much creative room for the continual reforming that needs to take place. Yet here is our cherished and hallowed Book of Order, calling Presbyterians to be open to God’s continuing reformation of the church – God’s continuing challenge to the status quo of Presbyteries and to the ways things have always been done.
I can foresee myself reading this section at some Presbytery meeting in the future, trying to sway the “old guard” to be open to the movements of the Spirit in our midst. It’s unfortunate that us younger Presbyterians will have to fight for these types of changes, when they’re right there, in black and white print, in our Book of Order.