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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church
December 9, 2010

What does it mean to have “Great Ends”?

For the past several weeks we have been in this space exploring the “Great Ends of the Church” as listed in our Book of Order G-1.0200, asking how they could also be imagined as the “great ends of presbytery.” As I bring this series to a close, I want to consider briefly what it means to have “great ends” anyway.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was privileged to attend my first General Assembly as an observer. I had no idea what to expect, but even coming with an “anything is possible” open mind didn’t prepare me for what I encountered as I walked into the middle of GA’s opening plenary session. The crowd was on its feet, with everyone apparently dancing some version of the Twist, with the notable addition that everyone was trying to bump each other’s posteriors. Dancing Presbyterians is not an elegant sight even in the best of circumstances. I learned only after everyone took a seat (groan) that they were doing a mid-session energizer called “the great ends of the church.” I kid you not.

We might consider “great ends” as goals of the church, in the sense that these are the objectives toward which we strive. As such, they are aspirations, ideals that we seek to realize. Some consider the hope to achieve these heights as sheer wishful thinking, as vain grasping after something far beyond our reach. People who strive toward such ends are often dismissed as utopians – heads in the clouds types. They understand their great ends not merely as hopes for the distant future, but as something toward which they are called to reach here and now.

Another understanding of “ends” is more about destiny, about what most certainly lies at the end of our journey. Taken in this sense, there is no doubt that we will eventually realize our ends – but that is a dim future reality, quite beyond anything we can possibly hope to achieve today.

When we talk about the “great ends of the church,” we’re dealing with both these understandings of “ends.” We are dealing with aspiration as well as with destiny. We do all we can to work toward these ends, all the while acknowledging that ultimately they will be realized by God’s action and not ours.

When we speak of the church’s “great ends,” we’re lifting up both hopes and certainties. This is what the church will eventually look like by virtue of God’s action, and this is what the church is called to work toward right now with all its heart and soul and mind and strength.

Presbytery is the place where we do the hard work of living into and exhibiting publicly what we shall fully become as God’s people gathered by the Spirit from far and wide to the praise of our Lord and Savior. Local congregations work to live into this also, but as presbytery we are inherently a collection of people not normally inclined to congregate; the reason we are together is because we believe we are part of something larger than a local affinity group. Together with people with whom we who would not normally gather, we aspire to be truly the people of God, where “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” is a concrete, visible reality. Here we speak of the “not-yet” kingdom as though it were also truly the “already” kingdom. We dare to live as though the full reign of God is already present, manifest in the church’s life. This is the end for which we are destined, and the standard for which we strive in our life together.

Thus, we speak not only of our destiny, but also of our inherent identity when we say that Pittsburgh Presbytery is a place where the Gospel is proclaimed for human salvation, God’s people are sheltered and nurtured, God’s worship is maintained, the truth is preserved, social righteousness is promoted, and the kingdom of God is exhibited. Here! Now! Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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

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