Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? (W-4.0404 a.)
There’s a lot packed into the first question asked during ordination and installation. If you were already overwhelmed by being ordained, installed, and expected to function faithfully, this first question might tip you over the edge. It only asks about your ultimate trust, salvation, ecclesiology, and theology of the Trinity. No big deal. You could answer yes without much thought, but I suspect you want to agree with what you are promising. Where to start?
In seminary I learned a suggestion for studying scripture that has never let me down: circle the verbs. There may have been more to the technique, such as underlining names, drawing arrows, and connecting ideas, but none of that stuck like the verb thing did. Circled verbs jump off the page and highlight what we are asked to do—love, serve, ask, seek, knock, rejoice, pray. Focusing on verbs helps us discern how to begin to respond to God’s call through scripture. It can do the same as we answer the call to serve as ruling elders. So, let’s start with the verbs.
This first question contains three big ones—trust, acknowledge, believe—all about Jesus.
TRUST: Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior? Not do you trust in yourself, in your fellow ruling elders, or the church as a whole. The question is about Jesus. Do you have confidence in him and in what he has accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection? I don’t think this means you have to understand how it works. The question is “do you trust,” not have you collected enough evidence. And it’s “do you trust in Jesus,” not can you prove yourself worthy. Trust assumes that you don’t understand and you know you aren’t worthy, but you put your faith in Jesus being who he says he is—your Savior who extends grace freely to you. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior …?
ACKNOWLEDGE: And who do you say that Jesus is to you? To all of creation? To the church you will help lead? This doesn’t assume (and the church doesn’t expect) that you can write and defend a dissertation on the person of Jesus, his work of salvation, and his authority over the cosmos. It doesn’t even assume that you will always remember to act the way a follower of Jesus acts. The question is more like this: Do you agree here today that Jesus should be the one we look to as the leader of all our lives and of the church? Even if every day our decision means a fresh chance to practice living this out, we begin by acknowledging it individually, and together. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church …?
BELIEVE: Do you, because of your trust in Jesus who is Lord of all, believe in one God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The Trinitarian language here echoes our oldest confessions of faith, which we say together as a body of believers. In the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and during baptism and other liturgies, you have probably been saying “I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as long as you have been worshiping. There have likely been times it was easy to say and times you needed the voices of others to help you say it. You may have heard multiple sermons trying to explain what we believe about how God is three-in-one. This is one of the mysteries of God that defies complete explanation, and helps us practice faith. It’s an affirmation that our one God works in multiple ways. So, affirm your belief that God shows up in all three ways in your life as you reflect on your call to serve as a ruling elder. Say yes to your belief that God is in relationship with you as Creator, Christ, and Spirit—sustaining, challenging, and loving you. Say yes to your belief that God’s Holy Spirit will surely equip and guide you as you seek to lead. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
- How does focusing on the verbs trust, acknowledge, and believe help you answer the first question (W-4.0404 a.)? What other verbs are important to your faith?
- When have you needed to remember that Jesus is Lord of all and Head of the Church?
- How do the materials in Coming Alive in Christ deepen your understanding of this question?
Rev. Julie Coffman Hester is a pastor and writer in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She is inspired by faithful ruling elders, like her parents, and the remarkable disciples with whom she has served in local congregations.
This article is the second in a 12-part series focusing on the constitutional questions that church leaders answer upon their ordination and installation, using some of the materials from Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions, which is available at equip.pcusa.org.