Part II: UCC Polity
(Part two of the ordination paper is intended to provide an opportunity for the student to demonstrate her knowledge and understanding of the history, theological roots, polity, and practice of the United Church of Christ.)
The purpose of this paper is to explore my relationship and thoughts about the UCC’s paragraph two in the Preamble to the Constitution. IThe purpose of this section is to explore my relationship and thoughts about the UCC’s paragraph two in the Preamble to the Constitution. I feel this is the theological “meat” of the UCC. I am a cross-pollinated member of the UCC as I find myself affirming parts of all four of the streams of the UCC as well as the many hidden histories that make the UCC what it is today. The preamble is a document rich in history, full of theology, and pregnant with opportunities for a wide variety of interpretations. I love it for not only what it says but for what it does not say.
The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession.
These first two sentences specifically come from the Christian tradition and its goal of uniting all Christianity without need for denominational strife and division. I like this idea as it also comes out of my Catholic tradition. Obviously, I am no longer Catholic as I did not find them very affirming of the first sentence, although I still acknowledge them as kin. It is easy to place a person or tangible thing, like the pope, a charismatic pastor or even the Bible in place of an invisible presence. This can lead to rigid hierarchies, cults, and a generalized idolatry. I like the ecumenical vision this casts that harkens back to Paul’s thought that, “We are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). It frees up the denomination to follow the Spirit and Christ as they interpret it. It acknowledges the priesthood of all believers, yet alludes to the central idea of autonomy and covenant that is central to the UCC.
I would like to speak briefly of autonomy and convent as I feel they are extremely important in my understanding of UCC polity. Here I write what is in my Autonomy and Covenant Post
It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world.
Karl Barth stated that when we read the Bible we aren’t reading the word of God, we’re reading for the word of God. This view of the Bible I can really affirm. It resists making an idol out of the Bible and takes into account the modern critical methods. It affirms that God, not the Bible, is the one in charge that sparks the transformation and redeems the world. This means that we read about God’s work in history through the view of a particular people with all the limitations of culture and contexts.
The ancient theologian Origen taught that every text in the Bible could be read at three levels: the literal, the moral and the spiritual level. The spiritual level was discovered by means of allegory and was the most important. He has been severely criticized for this view, but I affirm it. With the modern criticisms we are able to understand context, language, and form. With hermeneutics we are able to access some practical meaning for our lives. By means of allegory, we can draw out particular instances in our lives to further make the point. We are to risk an interpretation by walking as far as reason and experience will take us, and then to live it out having faith that the Holy Spirit will guide and redeem us. This statement in the preamble does not limit the work of the Spirit nor try to remove the church or God from the world as it states “…work in the world.” There is no direct notion of a sacred/secular divide, and that is very important to me.
It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.
I just cited Origen in the last section, and I do not think I could do that in too many other denominations. I like this as it affirms the historical track the ancestors of the UCC have taken. We are Protestant in historical tradition and action. This part of the preamble affirms how informed people in the 14th century took responsibility and forged a new vision of church and worship. They did so boldly and creatively. That is the key concept of the preamble for me as it shows what we deeply value in the UCC. We value the ability of each generation to make the faith “its own.” We cannot rest on the laurels of those who have gone before us. We may look back to the 14th or even 18th century in our tradition, but we are not supposed to stay there. We must speak to our context and circumstance that we find ourselves in. We must pay attention to history and be guided by it yet not bound to it. That view does not label Catholics as somehow deficient, just different. We have parted honestly in our expressions of piety and faith. However, I feel an openness in the UCC to Catholicism and those who moved beyond the Protestant reformers our tradition claims (like the Brethren, Hussite, and other “radical reformation” movements), as we see in the examples of Mercersburg theology and Reverend Phillip William Otterbein.
In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.
This can only come from a “sola scriptura” ethic for which Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli argued. The preamble affirms the Protestant view of the sacraments yet it does not outline them. It points to the two sacraments that Jesus specifically started yet does not feel the need to outline them here. I think this is a wise move, as it allows for a variety of interpretations of the sacraments. It starts where the reformers all agreed and builds from there. The spectrum from Zwingli’s “it’s just a symbol” to Calvin’s middle road of “it’s a symbol and more than” to Luther’s “consubstantiation.” I like this as it affirms the history and yet remains open to diverse views of the sacraments.
I affirm the UCC’s preamble in full. It is rare for me to state that, especially in writing, as I often have problems with creeds and religious statements. I usually edit the Nicene Creed to leave out the parts with which I do not agree (the virgin birth, for example). I find I can fully embrace this statement and will attempt to live it out. I view it more as a basis from which the UCC can launch. It is a foundation that each of the streams, hidden histories, and combinations thereof can come back to during times of controversy and conflict. It is good to recognize this affirmation within the preamble to the constitution as it sets up the rest of the document. It is also good to view it as an internal document, meaning it only deals with those within the UCC. It does not mention or refer to atheists, agnostics, or non-Christians, nor should it. It is a great touchstone for our denomination and a reminder of the history and principles upon which we are founded.