Our "bag"

"So that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom, but on God's power", 1 Corinthians 2:5.

I recently met with some of the crew I went through theological college with. I was in a discussion with one of the blokes who moved into the Presbyterian church and is now lecturing in the Presbyterian theological college. I asked him what was the "bag" of the Presbyterian church? "What do you banner outside your church?" "What is it that you have to offer me as a Christian consumer?" Initially, he answered the question in the terms of the Christian faith. Presbyterians could introduce a person to Jesus. They were a church that loved Jesus and served him, guided by his Word. They were a "gospel-centred" church, a Bible believing church.

This answer didn't suit me because he was only saying "we are a Christian church." A church focussed on Jesus and his Word is a Christian church, and I hope every Christian denominational church could at least say they focussed on Jesus and His Word. So I chased it further with him. "What is your distinctive?" "What is your particular 'bag'?" Of course, he put it back on me. "I think you should be asking that about the Anglican church."

"Quite right", I said, "I have and I can't now answer it. Once I could say we are a Prayer Book church. Our life and worship was guided by the Book of Common Prayer which enshrines Archbishop Cranmer's five principles of i] preservation, ii] centrality of scripture, iii] purity, iv] common tongue, and v] uniformity. Now the Anglican church, particularly in the Sydney diocese, is guided by clerical experimentation." "Everyone does that which is right in their own eyes", Judges 21:25. "So what about the Presbyterian church?"

My friend identified two particular elements of the Presbyterian "bag". First, the church is "reformed". Their faith is guided by the Westminster Confession. It is a Calvinist church resting strongly on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. This is a good focus, but it is not uniquely Presbyterian. Second he identified the government of the church. The church is controlled by a presbytery, elected congregation members, rather than say a Bishop or Rector. This is an excellent form of government, probably better than ours which puts too much power in the hands of the clergy. Still it is not unique.

At this point in the discussion we could go no further. I guess few churches can claim a unique "bag", something that sets them apart from the mob. So it is rather sad when we realize that Anglicans did have something in the Prayer Book, not necessarily unique, but certainly specialized. Why then are so many of us set on destroying our "peculiar bag"?

[Pumpkin Cottage]