“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?”
That’s the third of the constitutional questions asked at services of ordination and installation. If we agree, we’re supposed to say, “I do and I will.” We might ask, “What in the world did I just agree to?” I’m just guessing, but I think I would be safe in saying that not a lot of people know a great deal about the Reformed tradition. What to do? Fortunately, our Book of Order does a pretty good job in outlining it.
We begin, of course, with Jesus Christ. “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God. Christ is present with the Church in both Spirit and Word. Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills” (F-1.0202).
Zeroing in a little more toward a specifically reformed flavor, we have some notes of the Reformed Church. “Where Christ is, there is the true Church. Since the earliest days of the Reformation, Reformed Christians have marked the presence of the true Church wherever:
—the Word of God is truly preached and heard,
—the Sacraments are rightly administered, and
—ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered” (F-1.0303).
We like to use the phrase, “the church reformed, always reforming.” But that can be tricky. The original phrase in Latin is, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei,” which means, “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God.” So it’s not simply a question of reforming; we might want to re-form the church according to our own likes. If you’re a hockey fan, you might want to re-form the church with the assertion, “Jesus cheers for the Nashville Predators.” (Unfortunately, that’s probably not according to the Word of God!)
The Book of Order goes into even more detail, saying, “In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who in Christ and by the power of the Spirit creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love” (F-2.05). That’s quite a laundry list!
Not to fear, though, we’re given some examples to help spell it out:
“The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;
“Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God;
“A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation; and
“The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.”
Those are some nice tidbits! For instance, when we say “I do and I will” to that third question, we affirm a faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation. Maybe that faithful stewardship is displayed by the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. And how about shunning that ostentatious living? Do we really need that fancy thingamajig or that swanky doohickey? Who are we trying to impress?
Oh yes, and then there’s the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny. Have we met the inner idolater, our tiny tyrant, inside of us? Similar to the bit about “reforming,” it’s the Word of God which (and who) sets them straight—keeps them from infecting our heart and soul.
So now, maybe we can say, “I do and I will,” and have a clue as to what we mean!