These documents will likely form the foundation for the discussions that will take place at the Fellowship’s covenanting conference to be held in Orlando Jan. 18-20. Both documents were written by small working groups that have been laboring since the Fellowship’s meeting last August in Minneapolis.
The Fellowship is inviting people to submit feedback on the drafts through Jan. 6 and says it will issue revised copies of the documents at the covenanting conference.
Theology. This 13-page document was written by a three-person task force consisting of:
- Jerry Andrews, pastor of First Presbyterian church in San Diego;
- Laura Smit, associate professor of theology at Calvin College in Michigan; and
- Joe Small, former director of Theology, Education and Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Here are some key points of the theology draft:
- It affirms the Book of Confessions of the PC(USA). “The Book of Confessions itself is not problematic,” the draft states. “The problem with The Book of Confessions is the church’s — the whole church’s — neglect and misuse of its theological treasure.”
- It presents a series of proposed essential tenets for Reformed Christians to be adopted by a new Reformed body that would be created. Those tenets include foundational Christian beliefs, including belief in Scripture, in the Trinity, and in the understanding that Jesus was both “truly God and truly human.”
- Another proposed essential tenet involves “living in obedience to the Word of God.” That would include, among other measures, a commitment to “maintain chastity in thought and deed, being faithful within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman as established by God at the creation or embracing a celibate life as established by Jesus in the new covenant.”
- The document proposes a commitment to “theological friendships in communities” including all teaching and ruling elders.
Polity. This 24-page document was written by an 8-member working group who stated that it used the new Form of Government as “a template” for its document. Among the key points in this draft document:
- It proposes “a structure and style of relating that is more horizontal than hierarchical.”
- It emphasizes “increased flexibility in congregational leadership,” including reinstituting the role of assistant pastor and “a more entrepreneurial approach” to leadership.
- Property would stay under the stewardship of the local session.
- Synods would not exist in their current form, nor would there apparently be a General Assembly. There would be one national synod, which would be the “widest council” of the new Reformed body.
- The draft does not include a section on discipline. “New approaches to the role of the presbytery and the National Synod will need to be spelled out,” the document states.
- Members or “covenant partners” of congregations asked to take on significant leadership roles should ordinarily have been members for at least a year, agree with the essential tenets, and be trained and supervised.
- Ordaining bodies “must ensure that all officers adhere to the essential tenets” of the new Reformed body.
- Pastors serving in validated ministry would have voice (but no vote) in presbytery and would ordinarily be expected to take part in the life and ministry of a congregation in the new Reformed body.
- Pastors should participate in peer reviews of their ministry and of their physical, spiritual, relational and emotional health with other pastors at least once a year.
- Congregations that want to stay in the PC(USA) could become union congregations with the new Reformed body. Union presbyteries also could be created.
There is no discussion in the polity document of other financial arrangements – for example, whether ministers and staff members of congregations or presbyteries in the new Reformed body would have health insurance and pension benefits provided by the new body or somehow through the PC(USA).