F-1.01 God’s Mission The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people…The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church…Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.
One of the more beautiful changes to the Form of Government (FOG) - in my opinion - is the creation of a new section, titled, “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity.” While one would never want to accuse the previous FOG of not being theological (that would be a foolish claim), the new “Foundations” section does the church a service by separating the more explicitly theological and ideological claims made in the FOG, making even more clear that the community we are called to be a part of is one which has a center to which we are true.
When ever I have taught an introduction to Reformed theology, I use the analogy that our Western alphabet begins with A and ends with Z. Likewise, I tell my students, our “theological alphabets” also have an A and a Z. Yes, the letter L is just as important as A is, but when going through the alphabet, everyone must begin with the letter A. Everything is seen through the lens of the letter A.
In our Reformed Confessional tradition, I maintain that “God’s Sovereign Grace” is the A of our theological alphabet – the lens through which all other theological claims are seen. Similarly, in our Presbyterian political tradition, I want to claim that the Mission of this God of Sovereign Grace is the A of our Form of Government. We cannot understand anything we do as a church apart from what God is already doing.
The FOG begins with the claim that what God is up to is creating, redeeming, sustaining, ruling, and transforming everything. At whatever point of creation’s existence, God is making all things new and whole. This, the FOG says, is “the good news of the Gospel”, and it is is this good news that gives the church both shape and substance – form and function.
When considering the polity of a gathered community, it is not possible to ascertain whether it is the form of the community or the function of the community that “comes first,” for that is a false choice. One does not determine the other. They both are determined by the Gospel. Not only is the church a body which seeks to participate in God’s mission, the church is the place where God’s mission is made actual.
As a foundation of our polity, the FOG asserts that there is nothing more significant than the covenant that God established with us. God has said “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” and the ultimate goal of our lives should be to live this reality and all that it implies. This should guide the life of our congregations, presbyteries, synods, and general assembly. One SoMA congregation, First Presbyterian Church in Liberty, MO (where I was privileged to serve for 4.5 years) proclaims it this way:
This church does not exist for itself, but for the sake of the world for which Christ lived, loved, and died. Everything we do in worship, study, and fellowship is for the sake of serving the world in all it’s brokenness and need.
I can think of nothing more to say to that than “Amen.”