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Presbyterian Coalition Issues Doctrinal Statement

Date 14 Oct 1998 20:08:34

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    Presbyterian Coalition Issues Doctrinal Statement 
    And Strategy Paper For "Transformation of The PC(USA)" 
    by Jerry L. Van Marter 
DALLAS-More than 600 Presbyterians aligned with various "renewal" groups 
within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathered here Oct. 8-10 to issue a 
doctrinal declaration and approve a detailed strategy "for the 
transformation of the PC(USA)." 
    In addition to the declaration - entitled "Union in Christ: A 
Declaration for the Church" - and the six-plank strategy platform - 
"Turning Toward the Mission of God: A Strategy for the Transformation of 
the PC(USA)" - the Presbyterian Coalition announced plans to transform 
itself into a permanent force within the church for what Coalition 
moderator the Rev. Jack Haberer of Houston called "the revitalization and 
renewal of the PC(USA)." 
    The group will soon elect a 24-member board of directors to replace the 
11-member "steering committee" that has guided its efforts for its first 
five years.  Coalition leaders also appealed for support - from individuals 
and sessions - to fund a half-million-dollar budget. 
    This was the third annual gathering sponsored by the Presbyterian 
Coalition, created in 1993 by representatives of more than a dozen groups 
in the denomination that supported a constitutional ban on the ordination 
of sexually active gay and lesbian Presbyterians to church office. 
    More than 400 attended the first gathering in November 1996 in Chicago 
to muster support for Amendment B -- the commonly called "fidelity and 
chastity" amendment - which after its ratification by the presbyteries is 
G-6.0106b of the "Book of Order." 
    After the 1997 General Assembly sent Amendment A - the commonly called 
"fidelity and integrity" amendment - to the presbyteries for their votes, 
the Coalition convened its Gathering II here, with more than 1,000 present, 
to rally opposition to the amendment's passage.  The amendment failed by a 
margin of 2-1 in the presbyteries. 
    But as Coalition moderator the Rev. Jack Haberer of Houston put it 
during his opening remarks to the gathering Oct. 8, "Another movement began 
here last year - the determination to be a leading force in the church to 
mobilize to influence the direction of the church." 
    "A positive spirit is in the air," Haberer said.  "What does God want 
us to be and do in the future?  Where is God going with us?" 
    Though there was talk of breaking away from the denomination at last 
year's gathering, as Amendment A hung in the balance, no such words were 
heard this year. "We're not interested in tearing down but in building up," 
Haberer said.  "We are not interested in leaving the church." 
    Nor should development of a theological declaration, a strategy for 
changing the direction of the church and a formalized Coalition structure 
be interpreted as the establishment of a "shadow church," Haberer told the 
Presbyterian News Service after the gathering.  "The moderates in the 
Coalition are resolute that it won't become that," he declared.  "And the 
moderates have the votes to resist it." 
    And in a pointed sermon Oct. 9, the Rev. Craig Barnes of Washington, 
D.C., told the gathering, "We have no business being here if we don't love 
the PC(USA)."  Barnes said the Coalition - and all Christian groups - "must 
be defined by Christ and not by our enemies, for if we allow the 
enemy to define us, we will continually have to find new enemies, and 
finally we will turn on each other." 
    John Detterick, newly elected executive director of the General 
Assembly Council - who attended the entire gathering - said the message he 
was carrying away was "a call for renewal in love."  Though he heard 
negative comments about the denomination and the GAC, Detterick said, "the 
positive message far outweighed the negative." 
    In a postgathering interview with the Presbyterian News Service, he 
said denominational leaders need to be more responsive to complaints and 
criticisms.  "Speaking as a layperson, I don't think we spend enough time 
thinking about these important theological and strategic questions," 
Detterick said, "and I hope and look forward to meaningful dialogue." 
    The declaration 
    Introducing the declaration to the gathering Oct. 9, the Rev. Andrew 
Purves, associate professor of pastoral theology at Pittsburgh Theological 
Seminary, said, "The Coalition has unfurled a banner.  The declaration is a 
standard lifted high amid the confusions of this season in the life of the 
PC(USA).  The goal is a rally to the colors of confessional Christianity 
within the Reformed tradition." 
    The declaration is not a confession, Purves said, because it is not a 
full explication of what Presbyterians believe but is primarily a 
Christological statement.  He said the core of the declaration is in its 
opening line: "Jesus Christ is the gracious mission of God to the world and 
for the world." 
    "The declaration is not new theology," Purves said.  "The intent behind 
the declaration is to express in some regard the faith that has sustained 
and mobilized the church through the ages."  The declaration begins with 
Jesus Christ "and not with our own faith or the institutional church," he 
added, because "he is first of all; his word is always the first word." 
    The declaration alternates between affirmations and rejections ("We 
turn away from forms of church life ...") - a structure similar to the 
Declaration of Barmen, which is in "The Book of Confessions" - so that 
"significant problems in our life together are purposefully addressed," 
Purves said. 
    The Rev. Mark Achtemeier of Dubuque Theological Seminary - who with 
Purves was primary architect of the declaration - reminded gathering 
participants "that Christ holds all things together, so the declaration is 
first of all a response to God's grace and Christ's presence." 
    Achtemeier, too, sought to affirm the Christological nature of the 
declaration while placing it in the context of current church disputes. 
"The deepest, most profound reason for us to lift up the declaration is 
that God has chosen us in Jesus Christ ... for the praise of his glory ... 
but of course our praise sounds forth in a certain context, doesn't it? 
    "Our praise rises to the throne of heaven," he continued, "from places 
where Christ's unique and saving lordship is resisted and challenged, where 
unbelief and superstition and heresy press in upon us from the culture, 
from our churches, and - let us admit it frankly - from the dark corners 
of our own hearts." 
    The litany of "forms of church life" that the declaration states "we 
turn away from" includes ignoring the need for repentance; seeking unity in 
"theological pluralism, relativism, or syncretism"; allowing divisions 
based on race, gender, nationality or economic class; discounting the 
authority of scripture; not striving to be obedient; not conforming to 
"rightly ordered sexuality" (marriage between a man and a woman or chastity 
in singleness - the constitutional standard established by Amendment B); 
identifying "the true church only with particular styles of worship, polity 
or institutional structure"; seeing the work of the local congregation "as 
sufficient unto itself"; and failing "to bear witness in word and deed to 
Christ's compassion and peace, and the Gospel of salvation." 
    The strategy 
    Though the Coalition was born in opposition to ordination of gay and 
lesbian persons, the strategy paper endorsed at the gathering is 
far-reaching. It is billed in its introduction as "the necessary 
complement" to the declaration. 
    It calls for "renewal" of the PC(USA) within five years in six areas: 
mission, polity, discipline, theological education, worship and educational 
ministries.  The document states that "We affirm that this work of renewal 
will be carried on in and through the existing structures of the PC(USA) 
whenever possible." 
    And while critical of the PC(USA), the document acknowledges "that all 
too often we have been part of the problem." 
    Each section of the strategy paper lists "frequently encountered 
obstacles" and "strategic goals." 
    The obstacles range from the vague - "incipient universalism" and 
"acceptance of theological and moral pluralism" - to the pointed - "a 
denominational mission structure that fulfills more a gatekeeping role than 
a facilitating role" and "graduates from our theological institutions who 
are ill-equipped for pastoral ministry." 
    Likewise, the objectives are in some cases general - "develop and 
promote a network of covenant groups for pastors and laity" and "prioritize 
innovative new church development strategies" -  and in other cases very 
specific - "encourage sessions to designate mission giving to acceptable 
projects within the denomination as an alternative to withholding funds or 
redirecting them outside the church" and "develop and encourage full and 
honest reporting of church expenditures. ..." 
    The strategy paper envisions as outcomes a church 
      "where the local congregations are more actively involved in 
determining and carrying out the mission of the church" 
      "where the decisions and actions of higher governing bodies more 
faithfully reflect the commitments of local congregations" 
      "where church members and their elected leadership at all levels seek 
and find forgiveness and a restored life in Christ" 
      "where the structures that are intended to order our life together 
are more cost-effective, streamlined, and faithful in determining and 
carrying out the will of the body" 
      and "where the Triune God is worshipped in spirit and in truth." 
              "Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church" 
        "He is before all things and in him all things hold together" 
                            (Colossians 1:17) 
With the witness of Scripture and the Church through the ages we declare: 
Jesus Christ is the gracious mission of God 
            to the world 
            and for the world. 
He is Emmanuel and Savior, 
One with the Father, 
God incarnate as Mary's son, 
Lord of all, 
The truly human one. 
His coming transforms everything. 
His Lordship casts down every idolatrous claim to authority. 
His incarnation discloses the only path to God. 
His life shows what it means to be human. 
His atoning death reveals the depth of God's love for sinners. 
His bodily resurrection shatters the powers of sin and death. 
The Holy Spirit joins us to Jesus Christ by grace alone, uniting our life 
with his through the ministry of the church. 
    In the proclamation of the Word, the Spirit calls us to repentance, 
    builds up and renews our life in Christ, strengthens our faith, 
    empowers our service, gladdens our hearts, and transforms our lives 
    more fully into the image of Christ. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that ignore the need for 
        repentance, that discount the transforming power of the Gospel, or 
        that fail to pray, hope, and strive for a life that is pleasing to 
    In Baptism and conversion the Spirit engrafts us into Christ, 
    establishing the Church's unity and binding us to one another in him. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that seek unity in 
        theological pluralism, relativism, or syncretism. 
    In the Lord's Supper the Spirit nurtures and nourishes our 
    participation in Christ and our communion with one another in him. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that allow human divisions 
        of race, gender, nationality, or economic class to mar the 
        Eucharistic fellowship, as though in Christ there were still walls 
        of separation dividing the human family. 
Engrafted into Jesus Christ we participate through faith in his 
relationship with the Father. 
    By our union with Christ we participate in his righteousness before 
    God, even as he becomes the bearer of our sin. 
        We turn away from any claim to stand before God apart from Christ's 
        own righteous obedience, manifest in his life and sacrifice for our 
        sake on the cross. 
    By our union with Christ we participate in his knowledge of the Father, 
    given to us as the gift of faith through the unique and authoritative 
    witness of the Old and New Testaments. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that discount the authority 
        of Scripture or claim knowledge of God that is contrary to the full 
        testimony of Scripture as interpreted by the Holy Spirit working in 
        and through the community of faith across time. 
    By our union with Christ we participate in his love of the Father, 
    manifest in his obedience "even unto death on the cross." 
        We turn away from any supposed love of God that is manifest apart 
        from a continual longing for and striving after that loving 
        obedience which Christ offers to God on our behalf. 
Though obscured by our sin, our union with Christ causes his life to shine 
forth in our lives. This transformation of our lives into the image of 
Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit begun in this life as a sign and 
promise of its completion in the life to come. 
    By our union with Christ our lives participate in the holiness of the 
    One who fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf. 
        We turn away from forms of Church life that ignore Christ's call to 
        a life of holiness, or that seek to pit Law and Gospel against one 
        another as if both were not expressions of the one Word of God. 
    By our union with Christ we participate in his obedience. In these 
    times of moral and sexual confusion we affirm the consistent teaching 
    of Scripture that calls us to chastity outside of marriage and 
    faithfulness within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that fail to pray for and 
        strive after a rightly ordered sexuality as the gracious gift of a 
        loving God, offered to us in Christ by the power of the Holy 
        Spirit.  We also turn away from forms of church life that fail to 
        forgive and restore those who repent of sexual and other sins. 
As the body of Christ the Church has her life in Christ. 
    By our union with Christ the Church binds together believers in every 
    time and place. 
        We turn away from forms of Church life that identify the true 
        Church only with particular styles of worship, polity, or 
        institutional structure. We also turn away from forms of church 
        life that ignore the witness of those who have gone before us. 
    By our union with Christ the Church is called out into particular 
    communities of worship and mission. 
        We turn away from forms of church life that see the work of the 
        local congregation as sufficient unto itself, as if it were not a 
        local representation of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic 
        Church called together by the power of the Spirit in every age and 
        time until our Lord returns. 
    By our union with Christ our lives participate in God's mission to the 
      to uphold the value off every human life, 
      to make disciples of all peoples, 
      to establish Christ's justice and peace in all creation, 
      and to secure that visible oneness in Christ that is the promised 
      inheritance of every believer. 
        We turn away from forms of Church life that fail to bear witness in 
        word and deed to Christ's compassion and peace, and the Gospel of 
    By our union with Christ the Church participates in Christ's 
    resurrected life and awaits in hope the future that God has prepared 
    for her. Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus! 
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

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