LOUISVILLE - Stronger than a New Year's resolution - which, if yours is like mine, wanes after a time - is a covenant. I am so thankful that God has made a covenant with us through Jesus Christ and has given us the opportunity to live in covenant community with God and with one another.
I have been focusing recently on the shared covenant for our life together in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is so beautifully spelled out in the first four chapters of our Book of Order.
These chapters begin with the one we value most - Jesus Christ. They set our whole life as a church under Jesus Christ, who is the living head of the church. What I consider to be our mission statement as a denomination, the Great Ends of the Church, is found here (to proclaim the gospel; to provide shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship for the children of God; to worship God; to preserve the truth; to promote social righteousness; and to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.) What a wonderful and comprehensive statement of what Christ calls us to be and to do!
Chapters two, three, and four are just as rich as the first. They make it clear that Jesus Christ is the Word of God and that the scriptures bear witness to him. They summarize the great themes of our confessions. They point out that the church is indeed a missionary society and that its life is to be defined by its mission. And, they remind us that to be Presbyterian is to be ecumenical and part of an inclusive fellowship in the body of Christ that welcomes the widest possible diversity of the human community into our life and ministry. It is also to be part of a community led by elders and ministers elected by the people of God where we treasure shared power, majority rule, and an ordered ministry.
You might say that these four chapters highlight the core values of Presbyterians and the elements of the covenant that defines our shared life and ministry. Together, we share a common faith and a common mission.
I hope that early in this new year you will join me in reading with fresh eyes and an open heart these first four chapters of our Book of Order. May we be covenant partners with one another to make these core values come alive in our church in 2003. May we also make fresh commitments to Christian discipleship and to building up this church that we love.
By Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick PC(USA) General Assembly