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Sunday, July 06, 2008

gracious witness resolution, pt. 1

This was my 3 min. presentation on the gracious witness resolution (04-28) to the church polity committee.

To give you a brief overview – this resolution urges presbyteries to communicate and implement a gracious and pastoral process in use with churches seeking dismissal from the denomination. This resolution also explicitly urges a move away from litigation to address this situation.

What I want to share with you in these moments, though is why this resolution... Feelings towards churches seeking dismissal from the PCUSA range from sadness to anger. I have experienced those feelings and more. Nonetheless, whatever our feelings may be, the pastoral commission from Christ remains: do you love me?... shepherd my sheep.

One analogy for our situation might be that we are experiencing a kind of divorce between some congregations and the PCUSA. In a local congregation, when a divorce is in process, a sharp attorney might advise each spouse to get all they can while the getting is good. But, as pastors and elders, we have a different perspective, particularly if both parties are Christian. We must be concerned that in these church dismissals, we function first as pastors and elders in Christ rather than as legal counsel for one party.

I didn’t write this resolution to wrangle about property trust issues. I didn’t write this to validate or invalidate the EPC, New Wineskins, or anyone seeking dismissal. I wrote this resolution because the Holy Spirit has convicted me that our witness to each other, to the larger body of Christ, and especially to those outside the church is paramount. We are to be salt and light in the world and the witness of how we treat each other is absolutely essential to our sharing in God’s mission.

Finally, this resolution is bigger than getting a letter written or getting something into the minutes of the Assembly. In what, I hope, is humility, and with the validation of you and the Assembly, I believe this resolution to be the gentle moving of the Holy Spirit through a complex mix of emotions, legislation, leadership, history, conflict, mistrust, and circumstance.

Here's the dream: If I could envision a complete movement of the Spirit; it would be for you and the Assembly to enthusiastically embrace this vision; it would be for the stated clerk to come before us and tear up the so-called “Louisville papers”; it would be for us to signal a ceasefire to Christians suing Christians over their buildings and land; it would be for each commissioner to go back to our presbyteries and communicate that THIS – tending Christ’s sheep and bearing gracious witness to Jesus – this is where the Holy Spirit led this Assembly.

If you love me… shepherd my sheep.

I urge you to heartily approve this resolution and put it before the Assembly. I have tried not to repeat here the resolution’s rationale, which fleshes out reasons for the wording and principles listed. Please take time to read it. If appropriate, I am happy to clarify anything I need to. I thank you for being open to God’s Spirit and for allowing me time here tonight.

See also the text, rationale, and presentations of the "gracious witness resolution" in committee (this post), against 03-21 (legal fund), and speaking for 04-28.

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