The Presbyterian doctrine of predestination is “the ground of hope” for believers, not, as some claim, the “relic of a bygone era, out of step with American culture,” the Rev. Cynthia Campbell told a crowd of 150 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presbytery and synod moderators here today (Nov. 18).

Preaching from Romans 8:18-30, Campbell ― recently retired as president of McCormick Theological Seminary and now interim pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church here ―  described predestination as “the keys to unlocking the heart of God” and “the trajectory of the divine intention.”

In Romans, Paul writes: “For those whom [God} foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Though some have interpreted predestination to mean that God eternally accepts some and rejects others (double-predestination), Campbell said the text shows that “God’s plan is to bring human beings into God’s glory and planned to love us from before the beginning and calls us now into eternal relationship with God.

“That plan, that hope, applies to each and every one of us,” she said.

And such a word of hope is sorely needed in the world and in the church today, she continued. “Hope continues to be in short supply,” Campbell said, citing the economy, unemployment and lack of adequate healthcare as examples.

“The church is in same predicament, with shrinking resources and declining membership. We know we’re not what we once were and not sure what we’re going to become,” she said. “We come to our congregations each week looking for a word of hope. What is it and how do we proclaim it?”

Paul’s message of hope in Romans 8 “is no more vividly portrayed than in baptism,” Campbell said, “where we tell the baptized persons that they are ‘sealed in the spirit and belong to Jesus Christ forever.’”

And the hope rests in the fact that the initiative is God’s. “God chooses, God calls, God redeems,” she said. “Jesus Christ does not belong to us; we belong to Jesus Christ forever. This is the Gospel treasure: in life and death we belong to God through whom Jesus calls, redeems and justifies.”

The annual Moderators Conference, sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly, provides training, encouragement and support for moderators. The theme this year is “Shifting Sands: a Changing Church in a Changing Time.”

General Assembly Moderator Cynthia Bolbach told the crowd that, though there is much anxiety in the world and in the church, “there is no better time to be a moderator in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because there is no more important time to be a moderator.”

Whether the PC(USA) survives its current turmoil is up to God, Bolbach said, “but our job is not to maintain the PC(USA) … I believe the PC(USA) still has life in it, but  only if we accept that the sands are shifting and that change must come with it.”

The wealthy, influential church of the 1950s is gone, she said. “We are no longer a church flush with members and resources,” Bolbach said. “But the point of the church is not to accumulate members or wealth, but to proclaim the gospel in this time and this place to a world that needs more than ever to hear the Word proclaimed and lived out.”

In such uncertain times, Bolbach said, the roles of presbytery and synod moderators are:

  • To be a non-anxious presence ― “We are not going to hell in a handbasket, but we are moving into an uncertain, unknown future. Doing things ‘decently and in order’ means we want to know what’s next on the agenda and we don’t really know what’s next and where we’re going to end up. Luther and Calvin didn’t know either ― their security was based on certain sense of God’s providence. Our task is to live out that message, calm and sure even when we don’t know, because our strength rests in God.”
  • To support and challenge our council staffs ― “Imagine how difficult it is for those whose livelihoods depend on the changes we lead. We need to support and reassure them, but also challenge them to think seriously how their council should be organized to minister most effectively.”
  • To take the lead in building relationships across presbyteries and synods ― “We have lost the emphasis on that part of the PUP (2008’s Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church Task Force) report to engage with each other, particularly with those with whom we disagree. To those who say we need rules because we don’t trust each other, I say rules don’t create trust, relationships do ― start dialogues in your council that will begin to build and rebuild those relationships.”