E-pistle June 10

When the Fog Lifts

“Presbyterians Vote to Change Form of Government!” Unlike our vote to allow gay clergy, this one will not make a single newspaper or news site headline. Commentators won’t comment and analysts won’t analyze. The world out there doesn’t care a bit, and, frankly, nor do most of us inside the Presbyterian Church.

The story is this. In our drawn out pass and ratify system, it was not until this past Tuesday that the new Form of Government, nFOG as it is known, reached approval by 87 presbyteries, the number necessary for it to become church law. The final count will be very close, maybe 88-85, almost as close as you can get. But close vote or not, on July 10, nFOG will become FOG, the law of the land, as it were.

There was pretty broad agreement on the need for a new FOG, the old one having become burdened with petty procedural details and hobby-horse provisions added by amendments this and that. What the drafting committee came up with is something of a strange beast, though, with too much faddish ideology at the expense of good theology and internal contradictions that the document itself calls “tensions and ambiguities” to be resolved at session and presbytery meetings or in cases brought to our church courts.

My guess is that way more than 87 presbyteries are going to waste a lot of time on FOG tensions and ambiguities while the work of bearing witness to the Good News in word and deed will be put on hold. The good intentions of nFOG will likely result in unintended but continuing denominational decline.

Here at LPC we are in great shape to make it through the fog. We already have our local policies and procedures in place and, frankly, are more interested in navigating our way through a dangerous sea of cultural change with its uncharted icebergs and strong currents than in rearranging the furniture on A deck. The crew in the pilot house is alert and ready. I’ve checked the registration; we are the LPC, not the Titanic.

One of the changes that nFOG brings to the church is the elimination of the inactive member. In the new system, you’re either an active member or no member at all. Under the old rules, the inactive roll was sort of membership purgatory. Sometimes members would move from our area and take awhile to find a new church. In the meantime, we would put them on the inactive list and then reactivate their membership when they requested a transfer. Or maybe a season of life with its complications would keep someone from active participation. We’d reactivate their membership just as soon as they were able to participate again. But often, too often, the inactive roll was a way station on the way to permanent inactivity. Weeds and thorns, rocky ground or the birds of the air keeping the seeds from growing.

Our session may want to devise a way to transfer membership for someone who moves from Langhorne and five years later finds a new church in Kokomo, but all in all, I’m okay with the elimination of the inactive roll.

Inactive membership is, in the end, an oxymoron. In the vows taken at the time of membership we indicate our desire and intention to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus made it clear that there is no such thing as an inactive disciple – someone who once was or someday will be. “Once you put your hand to the plow,” he said.

Some First Century church members were tempted to go on the inactive roll when they began to see that the life of the disciple could be demanding. The writer of Hebrews would have nothing to do with it. “Don’t even think about it,” he said, “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.

I’m not really much of a fan of nFOG, but I’ll be glad to see the inactive members roll disappear. Let’s all the more encourage one another to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees. God needs an active church to love his hurting world.