Compared to the Avengers, we have no eye-catching outfits. Some say we have even less charm; and they’re probably right. But what we lack in those areas we amply make up for in both orderliness and precision. (I suppose we should all aspire to excel in something.)
Greetings from Chattanooga, Tennessee–site of this year’s denominational General Assembly. The hills here are alive this morning with the sounds of songbirds, while the populace at large is creeping into their workday after a long and revelrous weekend of its annual Riverbend Festival. My family and I arrived in town over the weekend. Kevin Gladding will be here soon. We’ll be back with you all in worship this Sunday.
For those of you new to us, a little background on GA might be in order.
Every summer, Teaching and Ruling elders from all the churches of our denomination gather at a rotating location for five days to, among other things, receive a status report on the state of the denomination; hear other reports from its various committees; attend seminars on culture, doctrine, and ministry; and consider “overtures” that call for changes to our present practices. Each night of the Assembly we gather together in worship and hear from one pastor with a message of denominational significance.
This morning I’ll be attending the Overtures Committee to hear deliberations on the ten items its presbyteries sent up to the Assembly. Our own North Texas Presbytery has overtured the Assembly to consider forming a study committee that would be tasked with authoring a consensus opinion on what the Scriptures principally teach on Sabbath observance (Overture 2).
If you’ve read the chapter on Sabbath in the Westminster Confession (one of our denomination’s constitutional documents), you’ll find how it outlines a form of observance that admits no “recreations” whatsoever the whole Sabbath day long. So, according to our Confession, playing a pickup game of basketball on Sunday afternoon, or, as in that brief scene in Chariots of Fire, playing football among friends would be prohibited in order to “keep holy” the Sabbath. Given those strictures, our Confession’s view represents the most rigorously “Sabbatarian” view of Christian traditions.
Our denomination, however, allows for candidates for ordination to have a “stated difference” with the Confession’s view on Sabbath, on the basis that the original Westminster Assembly has an imprecise interpretation of what Isaiah 58 means by “recreations” (the text from which the Confession grounds its expansive definition of Sabbath observance). So our and other presbyteries are asking our denomination to consider an amendment to the Confession, not to accommodate our doctrine to our practice, but to ensure that the Confession’s guidance to our practice is indeed in line with what Scripture teaches.
All that might seem like the “straining out a gnat” Jesus warns of. But I hope you might see how it underscores our earnest desire to let Scripture be our guide, even as we employ a confessional statement to help synthesize Scripture’s teaching.
In your line of work you might attend one of these types of annual conferences, which you might find ever so tedious. There are certainly aspects of this Assembly as captivating as watching paint dry. But there is important work to be done here. You don’t have to be in an ordained role to recognize the various and deep challenges the church–whether presbyterian or not–in America face. Which is why prayer for the Assembly is encouraged. David Coffin, pastor of a church near Washington D.C., prepares a prayer guide each year for how all Christians everywhere might intercede. You can obtain a copy of that guide here.
If time avails, I hope to send brief updates on the work of the Assembly during the week. If you have the slightest curiosity about what we do here, you can watch the plenary sessions live by clicking here.
Feel free to comment here if you have any questions about what’s transpiring here.
Meanwhile, we’ll be in touch.
Keeping Chattanooga Weird,