"What do we do?"

I started this as a reply to a question James asked on Al’s post, and decided that it was getting too long for a comment, and needed its own post.

James asked this: “if we find ourselves in a status confessionis on, say, 12 June, just what do we do?”

That’s a serious question, one I am sure my remarks will not exhaust.

But I think that it’s extremely unlikely that a status confessionis, in the sense in which Al uses the term, could be reached already at General Synod. Rather, it could be reached in the abuse of a ministry at the hands of those who are given greater powers as a result of implementation of certain recommendations of the MSTF Report.

In short, we would see it down the road, in particular instances. We would see it in the appeals process that would then be lodged in the centralized board that would hear those appeals. We would see it in the application of implicit, theologically corrupt notions of righteousness, in the practical abandonment, at the congregational level, of the doctrine of justification.

What we would have, then, on June 12 would be the setting in place of structural preconditions for a status confessionis situation to occur.

That’s still pretty serious. And the question still is, “what will we do?”

I have a few ideas, limited as they are. Anyone care to expand on them?

1. Much of the anticipated payoff in the MSTF recommendations is lodged in the “open space” proposal. In our own classes and regional synods, we find ways of encouraging creativity and flexibility within our (non-suspended) polity. If we can get all such activity to happen within the polity, then it will show that there is no need to change the structure. The desired outcome of the MSTF will be shown to be unneceesary.

2. We work within our congregations, classes, and regional synods to reclaim the full integrity of the word “mission.” We insist, contrary to others, that it does not mean simply or even primarily the starting of new churches, or even of evangelism. It can and may include these. But mission means so much more, and can never be tied to a program for the self-preservation of a church institution.

3. We work within our congregations, classes, and regional synods to reclaim and develop a theologically robust ecclesiology. We teach and live out the truth that the church is not about one thing (for such reductionism always runs the danger of one or more besetting sins: sloth, hubris, idolatry, etc.), but is about several things in obedience to our Lord who was crucified and is risen. We proclaim. We worship. We serve. We teach. We lead. We pray. (See my sermon for Pentecost, “Blessed to Speak.”) None of these activities may be identified with a program or an ideal of congregational expansion, of church planting.

Of course, we should do all these things, even if none of the MSTF recommendations pass.

Other ideas?

Dan G.

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4 thoughts on “"What do we do?"

  1. I definitely agree. (I didn’t address this because I wanted to get out the practical suggestions.)But now that you give me an opening, I’ll say a little more.The proposals of status confessionis in the RCA I’ve seen have, in my estimation, fallen far short of the mark of what should constitute such a declaration. I have wished for more caution, and more humility. We would do well to show the same here.Al’s point, of course, was not to suggest such a declaration. Rather, it was (I hope I got this right) to highlight how totalizing conceptualities characteristic of all ideologies, even (or especially) church ideologies, are a danger to the church that grows out of a theology of justification by faith in Christ. Ideology is opposed to theology. That opposition, and the threat it entails, may not be a status confessionis. But it is a serious problem, one that must be answered.How we answer it is one tricky question. I have offered some answers. Are there others?Dan G.

  2. This is another very good posting. Thanks for this.But I believe that “Status confessionis” is always last resort, and for fully “catholic” issues. I don’t think we’re near approaching anything like that stage.See the first article in the book of essays on the Belhar Confession: A Moment of Truth. Daan Cloete writes about the necessary reserve in appealing to a “status confessionis.”

  3. O.K., we’re no where near satus confessionis. O.K., there are steps we can and should take; my whole argument about an alternative structure is that we CAN and SHOULD make what we have more alive, and not only would the need for the MSTF fade away, but so would the need for the GSC and most of the ongoing GS function.But none of what I have proposed, or what anybody else here has proposed, is easy. The MSTF people are selling their package as something easy (or easier, at least, for local churches); I believe that to be a lie, or, at best, a misperception. But I’m also a great believer in total depravity. It’s depravity that has gotten us to this point. I’m preparing myself to lose this argument at GS and to end up pretty much an outcast (albeit an outcast in good company)in my own branch of the Church (i.e., the RCA). I believe in the perseverance of saints every bit as much as I believe in total depravity, but I’m much less sanguine about our chances for maintaining, in the near term, any energy for a counter-MSTF movement in the life of the RCA. Maybe I’m just getting tired.

  4. The use of the notion of “status confessionis” in relation to the Reformation is, of course, anachronistic. In fact, I’m not sure of the usefulness of the notion in any case. My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that the term emerged in the twentieth century.In any case, I tentatively used it to unearth the deeper historical trajectories at play. We’re about confessional matters. Which doesn’t mean that we’re about doctrine per se. The gospel is not a doctrine. It is the living evangel who encounters persons. And persons are not fodder to further some other notion, or idea, or even “kingdom.” This was, and is, a truth to be confessed, to be stood up for. Not for the sake of a “truth” but for the sake of the life of the persons, beginning with the outsiders, for whom Christ died.Put it another way: at the center are the Word and the sacraments. What gets lost are the sacraments — again not as an idea, but as the living presence of Christ in the midst of community. And that community is not determined by how well it fits someone’s ideal.

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