Today is church officer training at our church. My part in the training will be to teach the principles of the reformation. As I prepare my presentation, I am realizing how many times I have gotten into trouble for actually trying to put these principles into practice.
“The priesthood of all believers” originally was meant simply that laity were not inferior to the priesthood. In our day, that same principle clearly means that gay and lesbian believers are as worthy to be ordained as anyone else. I have faced church hearings three times in my ministry for believing in the priesthood of all believers. Others in my denomination have paid a much higher price for this principle.
The protestant principle that “the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion is universal and inalienable” should mean we can actually take responsibility for how we treat everyone, and that we have a right to resist peer pressure from the church to mistreat oppressed groups. The principle should mean that just as we have a duty to obey just laws, we have an equal duty to disobey unjust ones. This principles is especially important when the unjust laws are coming from the church. The democratic nature of decision making in our denomination prevents a fall into chaos and, of course, one must be willing to pay the cost of one’s civil disobedience even if that means excommunication.
The principle that “truth is in order to goodness” means that we do not believe creeds abstractly or hypothetically. Creeds are songs calling us to a different kind of world where all are clothed and all are fed. It is not enough to believe in God, religion must lead to lives of compassion. If a creed does not call us to universal human rights then it is useless in transforming our minds into lives of love. Truth is in order to goodness.
No one today still defends the belief in a flat earth based on first century science. It is even worse to inflict cruelty upon humanity based on first century ethical understandings where slaves were to obey their masters and wives their husbands. “Reformed and always reforming” means that the church must be willing to let go of past understandings and open ourselves to new scientific truths about the universe and ethical truths about the human condition.
So, today I will be teaching the principles of the church to our officers. I will also be noting that these guides can also be the surest way to get in trouble with the rest of the church. Some people in the church give lip service to them, but recoil in horror if they are ever put into practice. The situation is similar to the old Soviet Republic where people were assured of all the basic human rights (free speech, right of assembly, etc.) but would be arrested if they ever tried to practice them. The quickest way to get in trouble in the church is to practice its core principles, but any who love the church enough will live out these principles at any cost.