A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Four Pillars of Church Life
May 23, 2019
It has been suggested to me more than once that, on days we meet as a presbytery, it would be good for me to circulate to all of you the letter that I have prepared for the cover of the presbytery meeting packet. Many who receive this weekly letter are unable to attend the presbytery meeting, so sharing that letter here assures that all are included in communications I intend to extend to the presbytery as a whole. What follows below is a copy of the presbytery packet cover letter I prepared for today’s meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery:
The first gathering of baptized Jesus-followers is recorded in Acts 2. Peter preaches the message of salvation through Jesus to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and we are told that three thousand of his hearers become believers. They are immediately baptized, and a church is born, without the benefit of the New Testament (let alone the Book of Order) to help them structure their life together.
All they have to go on are their instincts, formed by their new DNA as baptized followers of Jesus. And these instincts lead them to establish immediately the four pillars of church life: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. (Acts 2:42) They prove to be indelible markers of the Christian church.
It did not take long for the apostles’ teachings to be compiled into writings that circulated around the church and eventually were canonized. Rules of church order were also soon established. How these markers got lived out varied from place to place, but they are all present in descriptions of Christian gatherings during the first and second centuries.
These four pillars are not the only things that mark the church’s life. We also conduct necessary administrative business, we collect funding for church mission, we sing the songs of Zion, we commission people for Christian service, and so much more. Yet the four pillars remain as anchors of the church’s life in every time and place.
When we meet as a presbytery, are we meeting as a business organization or as a church? If the meeting of presbytery is essentially no different from a meeting of company stockholders, we lose much. Presbytery is the regional expression of the church, and as such its meetings should be first of all marked by the church’s DNA, which is still anchored by the four pillars of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
Once upon a time our presbytery’s meetings always included breaking bread together. We abandoned that practice years ago because it took too much time and and it was too much trouble for people as busy as we were. In so doing, we lost something of what it means to be “church” together. I recently asked a gathering of presbytery executives which of their presbyteries were experiencing a revitalization in their presbytery meetings, and if so, what did their meetings look like. Every one of those who reported revitalized presbytery meetings included all four pillars as necessary parts of every meeting.
This presbytery meeting we will be breaking bread together, something we have done only sporadically in recent years. Whenever we do so, good things happen. I believe good things will happen at this coming gathering as we gather at table, enjoy fellowship, hear apostolic teaching, and offer ourselves together to our Lord in prayer. See you at dinner!
Your companion on the way,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister