‘Polity Matters’ explores Presbyterian call to faithfulness in the church

Paper by Charles Wiley is latest in Theological Conversation series

February 19, 2016

Presbyterian Mission Agency theologian Charles Wiley III presenting at Big Tent 2015.

Presbyterian Mission Agency theologian Charles Wiley III presenting at Big Tent 2015. —Taylor Gash for Presbyterian News Service


Are Presbyterians “just so stuck on our government that we can’t get focused on Christ’s call to the church”?

With just such provocative contentions, the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley III opens the paper he wrote for the Theological Conversations series.

Theological Conversations is a new series of free resources designed to draw church leaders into theological conversation, whether in session or presbytery meetings or adult education.

In “Polity Matters,” the fifth paper in the series, Wiley—who serves as coordinator of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship—“frames an argument for why polity matters and how it can enliven the church in faithfulness to Jesus Christ.”

“We Presbyterians often comment on how deeply we value our polity, which gathers elders—meeting in councils—to provide leadership, discernment, and guidance,” says the Rev. Barry Ensign-George, associate for Theology in the office of Theology and Worship. “We also often lament the ways our polity falls short of its potential. Charles Wiley’s ‘Polity Matters’ reminds us of the theological affirmations that undergird our polity, suggesting ways in which remembering those affirmations can help us live our polity faithfully as grateful response to God’s grace that precedes and grounds us.”

The series debuted on Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015, with “Mary, the Magnificat, and Race,” by the Rev. Cindy Cushman, a paper that has proven especially timely and critical in the light of the rising murder rates for young black men in the U.S. and the need for the church to think and talk theologically about race.

Wiley’s paper is the first of six sets of materials that will be released bimonthly throughout 2016. Each is a study resource with accompanying conversation questions.

“’Polity Matters’ ranges from theological insight to practical wisdom, pointing us to the gospel of Jesus Christ that undergirds and shapes our polity, and suggesting ways we can live our polity today better to serve as witnesses to that gospel, the gospel,’” says Ensign-George.

Wiley has said “one of the enduring characteristics of our tradition is the deep desire to engage important issues theologically.”

“We hope that our new entries in the Theological Conversations series will continue to deepen our faith and focus our faithfulness,” he says. 


Click here to download the fifth paper in the “Theological Conversations” series, “Polity Matters,” by Charles Wiley.

  1. In light of this affirmation of our polity, I wonder how readers feel about the Synod Executives refusing to implement a directive passed by 78% of the delegates to the last General Assembly. Four Assemblies have supported downsizing our structure due to massive membership losses and the need to use available resources effectively. Yet 16 Executives (employees) are simply refusing to follow direction that emanated from a long discernment and the voice of the Assembly (our polity).

    by Jane Smith

    February 24, 2016