Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
I have several favorite parts of the service of ordination and installation. I love seeing the variety of people God calls into leadership. I love to see them pop up from different areas in worship—back row, balcony, choir—and no matter where their faith journeys began or have taken them, they make their way together up front. I love knowing some of the individual stories of faith that have led them to that moment.
I also love prompting folks to answer the questions. We know the answers are “yes,” but there are different ways to say “yes.” Sometimes it’s “I do.” Sometimes it’s “I will.” I’ve learned to add “Do you?” or “Will you?” at the end of each question. For question C, the answer is “I do and I will.” That one is tricky. So is understanding what we mean when we agree to be led by a rather unspecified list of tenets from a collection of written historical confessions of faith.
In a sense, I’ve already described what it means to say “I do and I will.” If you squint and use your imagination, the scene of various church members making their way toward the front of the worship space to be installed as leaders helps us understand.
From way in the back row, farthest away in history, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed stand up. They have been around so long, and their presence in worship is so faithful, that they are familiar to most folks in the church. They are reliable leaders.
From different areas in the sanctuary and history, other creeds and confessions start forward. The Scots and Second Helvetic Confessions have weathered church controversies in the past, and they bring wisdom and a great knowledge of history.
The Westminster Confession and the Catechisms head down the aisle. They taught your parents in Sunday school, and these folks know their Bible. They might not agree with one another or with you on every issue, but they are respected guides.
From near the front the Declaration of Barmen stands up, and so does the Confession of 1967. They are newer members, quick to share their faith in Jesus and active in ministries of reconciliation and mission.
The Brief Statement of Faith is sitting with the youth. Everyone is glad to welcome into leadership an energetic young member who speaks so clearly.
The Belhar Confession is a recent transfer. Some folks don’t know them yet, but that will change. They have been a leader in racial justice ministry, and we need their voice at the table.
As these all come forward, the church gets a glimpse of what it means to trust a group to help guide us. They are not all alike. They have varied strengths and weaknesses. They bring diverse history. They connect with different people at different times.
But the congregation knows they are united in essentials. They all trust in Jesus Christ and look to scripture to most clearly see how God’s grace is revealed in him. Everything else flows out of that—what they believe about the triune God, the church, and how, in covenant relationship with God, we are invited to participate in the transformation of the world. We’ve examined their faith and know that God will work through them. With a resounding “yes” the congregation entrusts them to work together to help us all follow Jesus as a community of faith.
Agreeing to be led by the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions is a bit like the congregation receiving a slate of officers. We trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through a collection of guides, who are agreed on the basics of faith. Their variety enriches our ministry, even while we listen for new voices and interpretations, always open to our fellowship being reformed. Their beliefs will translate into faithful committee work, important session votes, bold outreach projects, and creative worship services. The church will be blessed by all their voices, as she is by yours, in your own particular expression of the essential tenets of faith. Thanks be to God that your answer is “I do and I will.”
- Which confessions in the Book of Confessions are most familiar and/or resonate most with you?
- How do the leaders with whom you serve, or have served, reflect the strengths of unity and diversity in the Reformed faith?
- What are the essential tenets of the Reformed faith? While there is not one checklist, take a look at Chapter 2 in the Book of Order, or the section “Some Essential Tenets of the Reformed Faith” in the resource material from Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions, or this blogpost or video (33:36) by Jack Rogers. How do the materials in the resource 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 fourth 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 through Equip, the church’s online training platform.