New Form of Government ~ Part II, Mission

Part II – The Mission of the Church
The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, The Mission of the Church

If there is any change regarding the mission of the church in the new Form of Government (nFOG) it’s that the locus of that mission is now firmly rooted in God’s action rather than our own.  Language has been changed in the nFOG to reflects a reality we have always believed and has always been true, that it is God’s mission, and our responsibility as the church is to be a witness to that mission.

We believe…

The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church. In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.  (F-1.01)

We also believe…

God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body. The Church’s life and mission are a joyful participation in Christ’s ongoing life and work (F-1.0201).

The Church is not a building or an institution but a community of witness, called into being and equipped by God, and sent into the world to testify and participate in Christ’s work.  The church does not have missions; instead, the mission of God creates the Church.  We call this missional ecclesiology and you can read more about it in this paper, “What is Missional Ecclesiology?” by The Rev. Dr. Paul Hooker.

One of the ways we made this understanding more clear in the nFOG is in our description of the session’s responsibility.  Previously our Book of Order stated “The session is responsible for the mission and government of the particular church” (G-10.0102).  The nFOG clarifies our understanding that it is God’s mission (not the mission of a particular congregation) by stating “The session shall have responsibility for governing the congregation and guiding its witness to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that the congregation is and becomes a community of faith, hope, love and witness” (G-3.0201).

People concerned with this change point out that although both the old and the new Book of Order give authority over mission in their spheres to the General Assembly, synods and presbyteries, the old Book of Order also specifically assigned responsibility over a congregation’s mission to the session.

Our nFOG now clarifies mission strategy is established and designed by the higher councils of the church (councils comprised of elders elected and sent from our pews) and sessions lead their congregations in participating in the mission of the whole church.

The reason for this change has everything to do with our theological understanding of the unity of the church and that together, as one church, we serve God’s call to mission.  The change is not about preventing sessions from discerning how and where their congregations joyfully bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the world.  We are simply recognizing and affirming our unity in Christ’s mission.

The mutual interconnection of the church through its councils is a sign of the unity of the church. Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while possessing all the gifts necessary to be the church, are nonetheless not sufficient in themselves to be the church. Rather, they are called to share with others both within and beyond the congregation the task of bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the world (G-3.0101).

We witness together.  But that does not mean congregations will lose their autonomy to discern how they joyfully participate in Christ’s ongoing life and work.

In fact, when I look at the specific requirements of the session when it comes to leading and guiding the witness of the congregation in section G-3.0201 there are only three things they are required to keep in front of them.

The three things a session (and presbytery, synod, and General Assembly for that matter) is required to keep before them as they lead and guide the witness of the congregation are

The Marks of the Church (F-1.0302)
The Notes of the Reformed Church (F-1.0303)
The Great Ends of the Church (F-1.0304)

 A full text of all three are included in The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity link at the top of this page but in brief this is what each of includes.

 The Marks of the Church (F-1.0302)
The unity of the Church
The holiness of the Church
The catholicity of the Church
The apostolicity of the Church; 

The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples.

The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world. 

The Notes of the Reformed Church (F-1.0303)
Where Christ is, there is the true Church. Since the earliest days of the Reformation, Reformed Christians have marked the presence of the true Church wherever: the Word of God is truly preached and heard, the Sacraments are rightly administered, and ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered. 

 The Great Ends of the Church (F-1.0304)
The great ends of the Church are:
the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship;
the preservation of the truth;
the promotion of social righteousness; and
the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

These are the mission priorities of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that we keep before us, at all levels in the denomination, as we joyfully participate as one church in Christ’s ongoing life and work.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Let’s #StayPCUSA together.