Essential Tenents

Continuing to comment on the video that has come from the powers-that-be* we move to a very short segment on Essential Tenets. If you scroll down the above link you can view just this portion. I've included the transcript of what is said below my comments. Please watch the video.

I feel like the whole question of essential tenets was swept under the carpet in this segment. What's worse it is at the very root of the current situation and crisis within the denomination. Watch the video because I believe some of the body language and vocalizations say a lot more than just the words.

It felt to me as if it were a throw away question. It was asked so when questioned by others the pob's (see * above) can say, "we dealt with that in a video segment already." I believe the force of this segment is to make essential tenets seem not all that important for leaders in the PC(USA).

  • Joe Small downplays the importance of the ordination question which asks: Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God (W-4.004d).
  • Contrary to Small's statement, ordinands (deacons, elders and ministers) are asked two questions, not several, about the confessions. In the above question our "essential tenets" are linked to and flow from our confessions. What our flavor of Christendom believes isn't rooted in Papal authority or one preacher's interpretation of the Bible. It has been adopted and refined over the course of the centuries and has proved to be Biblical and instructive for our faith and actions.
  • Small's dismissal of the language as coming from the 18th century seems to me disingenuous at best. I am sure he doesn't think that if it's old it should be ignored. If true then perhaps we should ignore our Constitution or the maybe even scripture itself. It is a historical
  • Essential tenets are about "Who God is? But if there we don't make a distinction between Islam's Allah and Starwars Force it seems we have a problem. If there is no clear starting point on our nature (are we naturally good or totally depraved) then how can our theology speak to the human condition. It is interesting that there has been little if any discussion about Jesus up to this point in the video. My LDS background seems to think that quite a few Bishops I know could agree so far with what's been said.
  • The "bullet list" which is dismiss, as "not being very helpful" is the sort of thing that establishes boundaries. It is the sort of thing that makes apparent the differences between the PC(USA) and the Latter Day Saints, People's Temple and Islam. I contend that the reason for not having a "bullet list" does not have it's roots in the 1920's but in the 1960's when everyone was encouraged to "do their own thing." I believe we've sowed the wind and we're reaping the whirlwind at this point in our denomination's life. I am worried that we're more concerned about upsetting this or that group, consistency, supporter, or the like than we are about upsetting God.
  • In the last section Small seems to use the Trinity as an example of why a bullet list isn't helpful. The implication I get is anyone can say they believe in the Trinity but what does Trinity really mean? I understand his emphasis on conversations between ordinand and the ordaining body. But the issue isn't just about key beliefs at the time of ordination. It's about a continuation in those beliefs after they've served on Session for the sixth time or served a congregation as pastor for 20 years.

IMHO it seems obvious from recent actions in Presbyteries around our nation, that there is a flawed understanding of what are and are not essentials. That would be a very egotistical judgment if it came from just me. It is the Larger Church; the Body of Christ around the world, our sisters and brothers in India, Africa, Latin and South America who continues to disagree with our pronouncements. It is they who call ours and other denominations to repentance and distances themselves from us and others until we do so.


Essential Tenets:

One of the questions people have asked a great deal about is the core of what we believe. Sometimes they phrase it in terms of essential tenets. What is really at the essence of what we believe, I take it that's what they're asking.

Joe Small:

The language of essential tenets comes to us from one our ordination questions. In several of the questions we are asked to indicate our willingness to be led and instructed and guided by the confessions of the church. And at one point we're asked if we can sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed Faith.

This is language that comes to us from the 18th century. And what is expressed in that, essentially tenets of the Reformed faith, is trying to indicate the core beliefs --what we believe about who God is, who we are and how we are to live in the world. To come up with a list of essential tenets; bullet point list of essential tenets seems to me to be not very helpful.

We can say that the trinity is an essential tenet. But the real question is what do we believe about the trinity. And that's best determined in conversations between those who are candidates for ordination to elder, deacon or minister of the Word and sacrament and the ordaining body whether a Presbytery or Session.


  1. I've always wanted to be a power-that-be, so I am excited to know I've reached that goal.

    It's interesting how perceptions vary from intentions. I won't defend the video in whole, but I would like to comment on one aspect of your criticism. I can't imagine anyone who knows Joe thinking that his description of "coming from the 18th century" as critical or dismissive. That's usually a description of honor coming from Joe.

    It is difficult to communicate in a highly suspicious environment. It is helpful to read on how things are perceived.

    Charles Wiley

  2. Charles,
    Thanks for your comment. I encouraged people to watch the video just so they might interpret, for themselves, intonation and body language.

    I'd like to congratulate you on reaching the pinnacle of power-that-be. Have a good Lent. I look forward to your comments on other segments of the video.



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