(By Stephen Salyards, The Presbyterian Outlook). The cycle of [Presbyterian Church (USA)] General Assemblies bring with them a certain rhythm. And as we reach the midway point between the last GA and the next, we mark the completion of the presbyteries’ amendment voting process and the publication of a new Book of Order with the approved changes.
All 16 constitutional amendments proposed by the 222nd assembly in 2016 were approved by the presbyteries by large margins. The new provisions will take effect on June 25, 2017 – one year from the adjournment of the assembly.
And so, we have new constitutional documents – some with small and subtle modifications, others with large and sweeping changes.
Directory for Worship
The most extensive change is the revision of a whole section of the Book of Order with the approval of a revised Directory for Worship (DFW). The rewriting of the DFW was a decade-long process, so it also reflects the philosophy behind the earlier complete revision of the Form of Government section and creation of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity section. Specifically, the revision provides for a “shorter, better organized, more accessible, and thoroughly Reformed” document, as the rationale associated with the General Assembly action puts it. It goes on to say that the new DFW “seeks to foster freedom and flexibility, with openness to a broader range of worship styles and cultural expressions.”
The new DFW is roughly one-third shorter than the previous version, though it remains mostly parallel in structure. However, the concluding three chapters (which discuss personal worship; worship and the community of faith; and worship and the ministry of the church in the world) have been combined into one chapter that is more narrative in nature than the previous version. The new DFW is intended to emphasize guidance rather than be viewed as a rulebook. For example, the previous sequential formulation of W-3.3603 (which included four baptismal vows, the affirmation of faith and two promises of the congregation) has been replaced by a narrative section:
“W-3.0405: Candidates for Baptism or their parents shall renounce evil and profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Those who are being baptized upon profession of faith declare their intent to participate actively and responsibly in the church’s worship and mission. Together with the congregation they profess their faith using the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal affirmation of the early Church.”
Along with the revised DFW is a proposed change to the section in the current version that discusses the theology of the Lord’s Supper. However, since the new wording has already been incorporated into the newly adopted DFW, this amendment is redundant. But since this is a significant change in wording and theology, it is worth noting that it addresses who may receive the Lord’s Supper. The rationale for the amendment also discussed our theology of the table versus the usual practice when the sacrament is administered. The previous wording explicitly stated that the invitation “is extended to all who have been baptized” and to baptized children according to their level of maturity. The new wording opens up the invitation saying:
“All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.”
Teaching elder vs. Minister of Word and Sacrament
An amendment with the name “Ordered Ministry Titles” may seem like a bit of wordsmithing to some, but to others it is a discussion at the heart of our Presbyterian polity.