Monday, November 28, 2011

Questions at My Pastor's Recommissioning

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a special church service in which my pastor was recommissioned by some Presbyterian Church (USA) officials. The Constitutional Questions intrigued me. Here are a couple of them, along with my comments:

1. "Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's word to you?"

What I first noticed was that there's no reference to the Bible being inerrant or infallible in its original autographs, but there were other things about the question that puzzled me. So do the Old and the New Testaments become witnesses to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit----meaning that the Holy Spirit enables the readers to read the Scriptures in light of Christ? That sounds rather neo-orthodox to me, if my understanding of neo-orthodoxy is correct. And what does "God's word to you" mean? Why couldn't the question have just said "God's word", period? Is there a belief in subjectivity here----that God takes the Bible and makes it God's word for the individual by enabling it to come alive to him or her?

That's a way that the question can be taken in a neo-orthodox sense. But I can also see how the question can be taken to be conservative or ultra-conservative. The phrase "by the Holy Spirit" may simply mean that the Old and New Testaments are inspired. The phrase "unique and authoritative witness" may be saying that the Bible is an authority (making it infallible?) and has something that other religions lack. "God's word to you" may just be saying that the pastor is resolving to recognize the authority of the Bible in his own life.

To tell you the truth, this isn't really a deal-breaker for me, whichever way the question is going. As long as I'm not abused from the pulpit with guilt-trips and manipulation, and as long as I'm told that I am loved by God and am encouraged to value other human beings, I don't particularly care if my pastor is conservative or liberal in his view of the Scriptures.

If you want to read the view of the Scripture held by the person who asked the questions, see here. My impression is that my pastor is a little more conservative than this, but he's conservative in a reasonable manner.

2. "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?"

When I read "Reformed faith", what I think about is Calvinism----that God chooses to save a few people while leaving the rest to eternal damnation. I doubt that every single Presbyterian has this understanding, though. The pastor who asked the question simply refers to the sovereignty of God in his writings, which may just mean that God is in control, not that God consigns un-chosen people to eternal damnation. I once worked at a PC(USA) church, and the pastor told me that he's a universalist. As far as my current church is concerned, I never hear predestination preached from the pulpit, even when the sermon has such Calvinist buzz-words as "sovereign" and "covenant". My pastor does not strike me as a universalist, though, for he does seem to believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for one to receive forgiveness.


  1. I favour universalism, it seems to me the most compatible with Christ. Warnings that people should believe and behave or else I take to be about consequences in this world, and 'existentialist' ie saying one should believe now comes to saying that there is always a point at which a decision is made.

    The free will issue I don't think a big deal, but not now ...

  2. I also don't see how the free-will issue is a big deal in the universalism debate. I mean, where do advocates of eternal torment come off critiquing universalism on the basis of free will, when they don't even allow free-will to those in hell?


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