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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church?
November 11, 2010

Walking the Truth

Our Book of Order lists six “great ends” of the church, in a formula adopted by the United Presbyterian Church of North America more than 100 years ago. In this series, I am exploring what it might mean for our presbytery to be purposeful in working toward these “great ends.” Today we investigate the fourth item on the list, “the preservation of the truth.”

What is “the truth” we are called to preserve? It may be construed as a set of descriptions that correspond faithfully to the thing described. At one level that is quite easy to do – I could tell you that I am sitting in a quiet library looking out on a sun-soaked autumn day, wishing that I were out there enjoying the warm air, and I’d be telling you the truth. But it would make no difference to you.

“Truth” is, in fact, more than neutral description or simple assertion. It is the quality of correspondence or conformity. It includes description, but goes beyond it. Jesus says, “I am the truth.” He thereby testifies that his way of living corresponds and conforms perfectly to God’s intention – not just for himself, but for all humanity.

“Preservation of the truth” is more than keeping orthodox affirmations safe from erosion, decay, or violence. It is about making sure that we live in a way that corresponds faithfully to what God has done for us in Christ. It challenges us, “Are we living true to the good news we proclaim?”

Jesus doesn’t invite his disciples to affirm a set of doctrines, but to join him in a way of life. His followers were first called “The Way,” not “The Teaching.” For those of us nurtured in an environment dedicated to the importance of asserting the right ideas about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, about the Church, and so on, it can be a bit bewildering to discover that there were almost no ideas that Jesus’ earliest followers or their leaders had to affirm in order to be counted faithful. The only verbal declaration in the New Testament linked to salvation is that Jesus is the risen Lord. What is required is that people live true to the good news that God reveals in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

And what is this good news? In short, that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. That’s why God sent Jesus into the world, according to Romans 5:8. Preservation of the truth is, first and foremost, about persevering in a way of life that corresponds to the reconciling love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.

Do we love the world as God in Christ does – enough to lay down our lives for others? It begins first among us in the household of faith: We learn to love the world that way by loving our sisters and brothers in the church that way.

In Philippians 2 Paul characterizes truth in terms of “the mind of Christ” – readiness to lay down everything he could rightly claim as his own, for the sake of others. “Let this mind be in you,” Paul urges us – this way of living, this way of posturing ourselves toward one another.

To preserve the truth is to guard vigilantly a way of living together that demonstrates the good news of God’s unrelenting love revealed in Jesus. Preservation of the truth is in fact a call to a kind of behavior – behavior that demonstrates that what we say about God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ is in fact true among us. Perhaps it is never a bigger challenge than when we are called to vote on questions over which we are deeply divided, as we shall be doing a week from today.

I’m not ready to jettison sound doctrine. I want only to say that sound doctrine is always more than mere words. It is true only to the extent that it is manifest in our way of life. The little letter of 3 John puts it like this: “I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely how you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

“Telling the truth” matters. But until we are “walking the truth,” we have not risen to the standard of Christian witness to which we are called. What would it mean for our presbytery to be known as a place where people not only recite or tell the truth, but walk in it?

Walking the way with you,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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