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? –Book of Order, G-14.0405b(3)
When I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, this was one of the ordination questions to which I responded, “I do.”
Even then, I was enough of a heretic to be relieved that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had never been able to successfully articulate just exactly what those “essential tenets” were.
That’s not to say they didn’t try. Protracted battles were fought–and still rage on. A conservative group called The Fellowship of Presbyterians plans to make a definitive list of the essential tenets.
In my new Unitarian Universalist home, there are similar arguments about defining who we are and what we believe. Sometimes I suspect that, if we held a gathering of everyone who wants to figure out the “essential tenets” of Unitarian Universalism, we’d be surprised by the diversity of what attendees felt was essential.
The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers, a former moderator of the PC(USA), writes
An essential, or confessional standard, is a core belief that already has the assent of the overwhelming majority of the community. Essentials are not things that we are fighting over, but things over which we no longer fight.
In other words, essential tenets are those beliefs that are so obvious, that even the most hardened opponents would agree to them.
No matter what religious community we call home, most of us have laundry lists of “essential” beliefs and practices, rituals and traditions. The more anxious we are, the more tightly we cling to our lists of must-haves. Fearful that we might lose what has been of such comfort, we wrap ourselves in mantles of self-righteousness, insisting that ours is the one true way.
What we need is the courage to compare notes. To put our lists on the table, and begin searching for what we share. The core of our identity may be very small. Our central beliefs–the ones over which we no longer fight–may be few.
But that’s not a bad thing. A short list of beliefs is much easier to remember. A lightweight core identity travels well, and stands the test of time.
When we think of centers, and cores, the image we’re describing is a circle. A center, a core––and the circumference of a closed curve.
For Unitarian Universalists, and maybe for other communities, here’s a different image: the daisy. Yes, there are limits to the yellow center. But the daisy’s petals extend from that center in all directions.
So may we be.
(Photo by kkimpel. Used under Creative Commons license.)