When my former church, Indian River Presbyterian, was preparing to go into ECO,...
Over the next several months, in preparation for our national gathering, we will be focusing our Thursday blog posts on ECO’s nine values. We will spend a month of Thursdays on each of the values, where I will write an introductory blog post and then other authors will expand upon our Biblical understanding of the value for the next 3-4 weeks. We are excited to dig in together and pray that you will join us in this journey as we strive to stay connected until we see each other in person next January!
In the middle of May I was able to have three great meetings. The first was a meeting with our Synod Executive Council. The second was a meeting with the moderators and chairs of Ministry Partnership Teams (our COMs), and the third was with the Theology Task Force.
The subject of theology and theological education came up in all three meetings. All three groups were very clear in that their desire for ECO would be that we would have robust theological education, dialogue, and practice, while at the same time allowing those pieces to enhance mission, rather than detract from it. Prioritizing theology is both challenging and exciting!
Our third core value in ECO is “Thoughtful Theology.” We believe in theological education, constant learning, and the life of the mind, and we celebrate this as one of the treasures of our Reformed heritage. We can use our thoughtful theology and it’s implications to accelerate mission in the following ways:
1) We learn enthusiastically, but carefully from those of other Christian traditions.
I remember Rich Mouw at our first meeting in Minneapolis encouraging those who would be a part of the Fellowship and/or any new Reformed body, to be willing to be in dialogue with those on the right of us. We have been so used to being on the right and arguing with those on the left, we are now in a position where we need to be willing to dialogue with those on the right who are not in ECO. I think a great example of what Dr. Mouw was talking about was when we had Tim Keller speak at our two gatherings in August of 2013. Tim, being a part of the PCA, has different views on women in ministry than we have in ECO. With my view of women in ministry, I couldn’t be in the PCA, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those in the PCA on a variety of issues.
We also need to be careful when we are learning from others. At our board meeting, our board president, Eric Jacobsen, reminded us of this truth in his devotional time with us. He gave the example of how Alan Hirsch showed us a new way to understand Ephesians 4:11-12 on the five fold nature of ministry. In this five fold nature of ministry, we hear the term “apostle” and “prophet”. In ECO, we need to make sure as we rediscover these insights that we are careful not to fall off the rails onto the other side of theology.
Eric told us about this new book that had been featured in Books and Culture called “A New Apostolic Reformation” by Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec. This book warns of the abuses of a false view of reclaiming “Apostle” (big A). Hirsch doesn’t argue for Apostle with a big A, but it is important as we consider incorporating an apostolic role that we are aware of potential pitfalls.
2) We honor our tradition, but we continue to learn.
There are some things that are core to the Christian and Reformed faith, such as the authority of scripture, the person and work of Christ for salvation, and the nature of the Triune God. There are some things in our confessions that we know speak to a particular time and place, but are instructive in a different way today. An obvious example is some of Westminster’s teaching on the Pope, and yet we can still affirm the system of doctrine contained in the confessions. But there are other places where thoughtful theology might allow the scriptures to re-form us today. For example: the Scot’s Confession (which I love) Are the true marks of the church preaching, discipline, and sacraments?
I think most of us would affirm, as would scripture, that the church on mission is an important characteristic of the church as well. The point being, if we are going to be thoughtful theologically, then let’s re-engage with the confessions through the lens of scriptures in a way that we likely haven’t done in recent years.
3) A place where we can agree to disagree.
I loved in the early days, when Jim Singleton spoke about Fellowship and the New Reformed body being a collection of like-minded but not same-minded people. Being like-minded allows us to hold to the same basic core understanding of the Christian and Reformed faith, as well as a basic belief in and adherence to a Presbyterian style of government. But being like-minded allows for having differences of nuances in theology and practice.
Take infant baptism for example. When I was a local church pastor, I only did infant baptisms, never dedicated infants. I also only baptized children of our congregation, with the rare exception that someone was actively involved in another congregation and that congregation didn’t celebrate infant baptism. I would do such a baptism, as long as that congregation was informed. I was fairly strict in that practice, but I do understand that some churches may allow for the practice of dedication as well as baptism.
I think much of the discord in the last several centuries over these issues has been more relevant to Christendom. We are now at a place where we can major on the majors in terms of our core theology, leaving all minor issues to remain minor. I am thankful to be part of ECO, where we can continue explore these issues together as we build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.