“Churches leave as denominations break their own rules” reads the headline of an article in The Layman Online. I thought that was an odd headline for The Layman. While not being an organization or publication of the PCUSA, The Layman is written and run by Presbyterians, and one of the core values of Presbyterianism (say that five times fast) is that we are “reformed and always reforming.” We have a history of breaking our own rules.
This is not to imply that Presbyterians are wishy washy or (God forbid!) undisciplined. Anyone who has ever been to a session, Presbytery or GA meeting knows that rules are never changed on a whim in the PCUSA. What some call a decent and orderly process of discernment others call a long and arduous ordeal, but nevertheless, change is not made without careful and prayerful consideration.
What I like most about being reformed and always reforming is that I am reminded that my own understanding of who God is and who God wants me (us) to be is constantly growing. Scripture passages I have read 100 times take on new meaning on the 101st read. How I experienced God as a 24-year-old single wanna-be ad exec who still called her father when her car wouldn’t start is very different from the way I experience God as a 44-year-old minister, wife and mother (whose father still shows up with jumper cables when I call). I do try to be the person God calls me to be. I pray and read scripture. I practice my faith in community and seek to make disciples. I look for ways to serve the way Jesus told us to serve (kinda slacking on the prisoner visiting, though). But when I think that I have mastered discerning the will of God and know exactly what God wants for me and for the world, then I’m likely creating God in my image rather than remembering that it’s the other way around. So, yes. There will be times when I break my own rules. Sometimes we realize that the way we were sure was The Way is actually a mis-marked path. That’s when we need to turn around and head in the other direction–which I believe is the very definition of repentance.
Churches grow and change, too. Communities of faith come to different (and hopefully deeper) understandings of who God is and what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. I think our upcoming celebration of Pentecost bears witness to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit moving in, around and through us. This whole Christianity thing is just not easy. Jesus told us that it wouldn’t be. But when following rules trumps following Christ, we probably need to think about turning around. God help us if we ever stop breaking our own rules.
–Rev. Anne Russ