Rev. Taylor Croissant, Kitscoty-Marwayne Pastoral Charge and Chair of the Theme Committee preached at the opening worship for the 85th ANW Conference meeting on May 10, 2018 based on Ephesians 4:1-16.
It has been a long four years since the release of “Fishing on the Other Side (Report of The United Church of Canada).” I give the members of the Comprehensive Review Task Force a great deal of credit, in that they pushed us very hard to articulate what we want to be as a church, and we really examined what we truly mean when we say we are a conciliar church.
For me, being a Huguenot, a descendant of Protestants from France, I have a special appreciation for Jean Calvin within our Reformed Protestant spiritual heritage. John Calvin, as English speakers refer to him, is sort of a “use him when its convenient” figure within the United Church of Canada, as opposed to Lutheranism and their founder Martin Luther.
I would like use the life of Jean Calvin as a guide for us, not only in our meeting this week, but charting our path going forward in our church restructuring. Calvin had written his famed Institutes of the Christian Religion, the magnum opus of Protestant systematic theology in the time of the Reformation, and had planned to move to the French Huguenot city of Strasbourg, to settle into a comfortable life of reading and writing theology.
On his way there he passed through the city of Geneva, Switzerland, he was implored by the reformer William Farel, to please stay in Geneva, as they had very few Protestant clergy there to complete the work of the Reformation in the city. Farel said to him, “I pray that God does not grant you the calm you seek while you refuse this appeal for help from those in great need.” Calvin remained in Geneva. All the ministers who are retiring this year are now shifting nervously in their seats… But I kid, we wish you all a very happy and restful retirement.
But I will confess that I have been looking to Dec 31st as a sort of finish line, once there all my presbytery commitments end and I can put my feet up. Our beloved President has warned us however that the work of the church does not end on Dec 31st of this year. Alas there will be no Martian bureaucrats to relieve us. Our policies and procedures have been written, now the real work of our Reformation begins.
While Calvin was in Geneva, he established his true lasting legacy, not his written work the Institutes, but rather creating a system of church governance, the consistoire, or presbytery as John Knox would later call it. Five ministers and twelve lay people, made up that first presbytery, we’ll note more than two-to-one lay representation. Together, they sought out the will of God for this new experiment in how to be the church. They did so using the guiding light of Scripture, saying, “if we cannot justify our actions with reference to the Bible, we cannot be certain it comes to us by the Holy Spirit.”
Worded in another way in our own time by the United Church’s own Rev. Dr. John Young, the Manual has a subordinate standard to Scripture. For Calvin then, to test a new revelation, we put our decision making up to communal discernment. And so we turn to today’s Scripture, and the apostle Paul, another person we in the United Church have a tendency to turn to only when he is convenient. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus saying each of us are given gifts by God to, “Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Until ALL of us come to unity. ALL OF US. We each play a role in our decision making, specifically our lay people, you bring expertise as business owners, public servants, accountants, teachers, and yes, theologians, more than just the ministers are capable of thinking theologically. As the Apostle Paul has written in our Ephesians passage, “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, to speak the truth in love.”
All of us hold within us the ability to understand and speak that truth, even to theologically complex issues. Our Reformed Church foremothers and forefathers became distinct from other Protestants at the time not because of the doctrine of predestination, or their presbyteral governance system, but on their understanding of Communion. Calvin took a intermediate position between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, affirming that the presence of Christ in communion is real, although spiritual. This means that such presence is not merely symbolic, nor is communion a mere devotional exercise. Rather, that in the act of communion, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we momentarily enter the presence of God and share with Christ a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Looking to Jesus, the head of the church, let us now join together as the body of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Communion. Amen.