The Theological Issues and Institutions Committee of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) shouldered the task of amending the denomination’s Revised Directory of Worship during Tuesday’s afternoon and evening sessions.
A wide assortment of resource people spoke, including three of the people charged with the revision, Chip Hardwick, Charles Wiley and David Gambrell of the office of Theology, Worship & Education at the denominational headquarters, representatives from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and Rev. Rafaat Zaki of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns.
Gambrell spoke to the history of the revision that started with an overture in 2011 recommending that changes be made to the Directory of Worship that would allow the document to be more user friendly, concise, and address changes made to the Form of Government section of the Book of Order.
Kristen Saldine educated the General Assembly committee by saying that the Directory of Worship is authoritative, descriptive and in a few places prescriptive as it describes the theology and practice of worship.
The Directory for Worship finds its roots in the 1645 Westminster Directory, with new directories written in the 1960s and the last revision made in 1989 when the southern and northern denominations merged.
“It is our compass, gives us bearing and direction of worship, points to the primary things of worship – glory to God – Reformed theological understanding and navigates relationship between freedom and form – structurally flexible but gives guidance – encouraging a variety of styles and expressions.”
Joyce Liebermann said that a major emphasis was placed on making the Directory of Worship a good partner to the new Form of Government approved in 2011. “It fulfills that goal as the revised Directory of Worship is shorter and streamlined – more permission-giving just as new FOG is more permission-giving. It is less formulaic, yet a sense of Reformed worship is maintained and it has constitutional integrity. This revision is what we had hoped to accomplish.”
Presenters reiterated that this is a revision – not a completely new directory as it seeks to preserve the spirit and strength of Reformed tradition; giving glory to God; focus on Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, centrality of Scripture and unity.
Some of the highlights include an emphasis on grace and gratitude and new sections on worship and culture and the work of the Holy Spirit as it seeks to be more attuned to cultural context. It has been reduced from seven to five chapters with 9,000 fewer words compared with the original Directory of Worship.
Although several amendments were made by the Theological Issues and Institutions committee on Tuesday, the proposed revision to remained relatively unchanged in its final form that will be voted on during plenary sessions later in the week.
Of interest, is the reduced references to Israel in the proposed revision. When the document arrived, there were only three places where a reference to Israel remained. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns recommended that in those three references the language should be changed to “ancient Israel,” to differentiate between ancient Israel and the contemporary political state of Israel.
After consideration, the committee failed to change the language in one instance found in W-1.0302; and made the recommendation to change the language in the second paragraphs of 3-0402 (baptism) and 3.0409 (The Lord’s Supper).
A more theological debate was entered into during the discussion of who is eligible to partake of The Lord’s Supper. The revision changed the requirement that limits participation to those who are baptized believers.
At one point, an amendment was made to reinstate the historical requirement of baptism, but after a lengthy discussion, a desire to be inclusive ruled the day. The requirement of baptism to receive communion will be absent if the full body of commissioners votes to send the revision to presbyteries for ratification.