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Embarking Blog

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RCA General Synod President's Address

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First General Session I'm at the Reformed Church In America's General Synod as a delegate and thought I'd blog a bit.  President Carol Bechtel is giving her address.  Here are some highlights:

Focus: “What is the glue that holds us together?” Question asked by almost every Synod President. A question of identity.

"Belhar is not confined to South Africa.  The word apartheid was left out so that it could be a gift to the church in a wider context." [paraphrase]

  1. Confessions sharpen the points of Scriptures and help us to apply them.
  2. Confessions help us distill and articulate what we believe.
  3. Confessions form us so that when push comes to shove we are more likely to do what we say.
  4. Confessions are a witness to the world, helping them to hold us accountable to do what we say we believe.

"Everything I have heard and seen this year has testified to the power and potential of the Belhar."

"There seems to be a growing concensus that the Belhar is a helpful and faithful expression of the reformed faith and helpful shaping our identity."

"How can we always be reforming faithfully if we have forgotten what it means to be reformed?"

An analogy on reformed and always reforming:  variations on a theme as a recognizable rendition of what we have already been... delightfully different, but recognizably reformed... many have worried that we are becoming a very different song altogether.

Bechtel focused on Worship, Baptism, and Ministry.

Worship - we have lost our focus on worship; it doesn't exist in our ends policies

Baptism - Snapshot of the Far West:  adult baptisms increased, infant baptisms decreased.  Trend resulting from 2 converging phenomenon:

  1. more people not from infant baptism traditions coming into our tradition
  2. more and more ministers refusing to do infant baptisms

Ministry

  • Focus here was on Commissioned Pastor process, and called for more consistency across the denomination.
  • After 7 years, we should evaluate the CP process and whether it is working.
  • Students are being encouraged to "do the commissioned pastor route rather than doing the hard work of going to seminary."
  • If we are trying to use this as a way to increase ethnic minorities involvement in ministry, do we really want to trend away from more education and into positions which pay less?
  • Are we ready to trend away from theological education?
  • Bechtel proposed an evaluation of the CP process.

My Commentary:

I agree with President Bechtel that worship could take a more central place in our corporate identity.  However, President Bechtel seems, in my opinion, to have presented too truncated a view of worship by creating a false dichotomy between worship and being missional.   She made the case that we have lost our focus on worship because we have been focus on being missional.  One phrase that caught me was, "Worship can be missional."  I guess a larger question is whether being missional is an act of worship.  Is obedience worship?  Is evangelism worship?  Is serving the poor worship?  Is seeking justice, worship?  Worship is not just what happens when the gathered community is together singing songs and listening to sermons and reciting Scripture.  I would argue that when we are on the misso dei and being truly missional, then we are immersed in a worship that is Kingdom oriented and Kingdom driven.  I would hate to reduce an understanding of worship to the experience of a worship service.

I was sad to see President Bechtel's response to baptism issues to be of greater concern over decreasing infant baptisms then celebration of adult baptisms.  Though I understand that focus on covenantal theology and a concern with moving away from our history of infant baptism, I think the positive possibility that we could be reaching people who don't know Christ at increasing rates is of greater importance to focus on.  I do agree, that infant baptism helps us to understand that God first loves us even before we are able to love him... but this basic and foundation theology does not need to be lost merely because infant baptism may be losing traction.   It is still true that God loved me first, even if I come to Jesus as an adult?  I hope that we don't lose sight of the need for increased evangelical work in reaching those who are far from Christ and seeing them respond to his prevenient grace.  There is a lot more that I have to say about the changes in baptismal practice and cultural currency of covenant as well as its relationship to our denominational identity, and our missional impulses.  I hope that Bechtel's proposals on baptism at least get us talking more about this, which would be good.  I'm not sure when and if I'll get into that on this blog.

Wow.  She really took shots at the Commissioned Pastor process.  There is certainly much truth to the need for a review and probably more accountability to developing commissioned pastors.  However, it felt like President Bechtel was simply against the whole thing.  I think the thing that bothers me so much is what was not said - how difficult we have made it for people to enter into ministry, and d0 not necessarily have the best biblical development processes for equipping leaders for the church.  I would hope we could do more than simply review the CP process, and do a greater job of reviewing the entire pastoral development process, including seminary as well.


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