“ecclesia reformata semper reformanda”
During the next two weeks, I have a few things that I need to get started on writing, and two of them are specifically related to my decision to proceed with ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of the things I’m writing about is how I can describe myself as an emergent Presbyterian, and what the PCUSA can learn from Emergent and what Emergent can learn from mainline churches (in particular, the PCUSA). That should be interesting to think about.
I also have paperwork and questions to answer for my Candidacy paperwork (Candidacy is the phase after the Inquirer phase of the ordination process). They ask some real intense questions, many of which have me thinking (which, granted, is the point I’m sure). The ones that I’m currently most…well, I won’t say “stumped” by, but they will be difficult, are:
- A statement of personal faith which incorporates an understanding of the Reformed tradition.
- A statement of what it means to be Presbyterian, indicating how that awareness grows out of participation in the life of a particular church.
- A statement of his or her understanding of Christian vocation in the Reformed tradition.
The truth is, I am just beginning to learn more about the Reformed tradition. While I grew up in a Presbyterian church, I was definitely never one of those “hard-core” Presbyterians kids that you find from time to time (and often, at seminary, aspiring to be the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA). So some of these questions are a little intimidating to me. Am I Presbyterian? Do I want to sign up for this for life? How does my role in Emergent play into all of this?
I was beginning to get a little nervous about this, until I remembered one of the Presbyterian mottos: “ecclesia reformata semper reformanda” – the Church reformed and always reforming. It was brought to my attention that perhaps my role may be more on the side of the “always reforming” aspect of that saying. This is not to say that I totally forget about the role that the Reformation played into the formation of the church today, and that I should have some type of chronological snobbery and look down on that time from the past. However, I think that one could fairly easily make an argument that many of our Presbyterian churches today have focused primarily (almost exclusively) on the “Reformed” aspect, and have not critically evaluated how the church may need to continue to be “always reforming” in light of our current context.
Always reforming. Always being sensitive to the radical openness and movement of the Spirit. Always being aware that we may need to be critically evaluate our theology and methodology. While at the same time, being aware of and sensitive to the things that are part of the tradition of the Presbyterian church, and those things that are important in the holy scriptures. The Bible is an important part of the heritage of the Presbyterian church and the Christian tradition, but we must be wary of creating logocentric churches, where we become strict-constructionists when it comes to our theologies and methodologies, only allowing whatever the scriptures and tradition says. That must be balanced and held in tension with the new waves of the Spirit that may be calling for new theologies and new methodologies in a new world.
At any rate, it helped me to think about it in terms of this balanced view of the phrase “reformed and always reforming.” I’m sure there are other interpretations on this phrase, and I’d love to hear how you Presbyterians, especially pastors (or those on CPM committees) think about the idea of being both reformed and allowing freedom for continued reform.