By Rev. George Wortham, Interim General Presbyter and Stated Clerk
There has always been a tension found within our theology and our church polity. This is the tension between freedom and order. Specifically, freedom has to do with the freedom of God and our freedom to respond to God.
This means that in our theology and polity we seek to be guided by God. This is a discipline of listening, prayer, and response. This is a primary task for councils of the church. It is the responsibility of Sessions and Presbyteries (and Synods and GA) to listen to the movement of the Spirit and follow the leading of God.
On the other hand, we also understand the necessity of order. Order is what we do and what we create. And it is necessary for two reasons. First, order sets boundaries to our self-deception and sin. Secondly, order gives organization and focus to our work of mission as the church of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, order is necessary. But because order is fundamentally our creation, it is also situated in a specific culture and set of social relationships. It is for this reason that the order of the church is always subject to continual reforming (Reformed and always reforming).
I have had the privilege to experience the Presbyterian order of the church in Scotland, Chile, Guatemala, Peru, and Mexico. And in all these churches the order is specific to the reality of culture and society.
When I was first approached concerning this position of interim general presbyter and stated clerk, the challenge I was made aware of was the changes in culture and society that has affected our Presbytery. Then the COVID-19 crisis turned our world upside down.
This is where the tension in our theology and polity is present. Our order was not created to deal with the changes we now face. From the General Assembly to the local church Session, we are making decisions that are beyond the Book of Order, Robert’s Rules of Order or any bylaws or manuals of operation. Order will catch up in time. But in the meantime it is important for us to reaffirm that God’s presence and guidance is still with us. God is still free and sovereign over our lives and world.
So what do we do? To rework a quote from Augustine: “Love, and do what you need to do.” If you love the Lord and love his church and seek the well being of the church, all will be well. Thanks be to God.