I became a Presbyterian on 10 December 1991. This was during my first semester at an American Baptist seminary, and after having been in the Assemblies of God for the previous five years. (A side note about that date: I didn’t think of it at the time, but that date is when International Human Rights Day is annually observed. Having been a member of Amnesty International for several years before that, I could appreciate it.)
I traveled from just north of Nashville up to Eastern Baptist Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philly. I made the trip by plane; the decision to leave my car behind was deliberate. I didn’t want to have to fool with it. I knew I was going to a place with sufficient mass transportation. So I started attending the church across the street from school, which just happened to be a Presbyterian church—I joined it in December. I say “just happened”; I’ve also said that I was predestined to become a Presbyterian!
Of course, it was more than just happenstance. Besides the worship and the theology of that congregation (Overbrook Presbyterian), I also came to value the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). That’s composed of the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order. I was interested in both of them, but it was the Book of Order that especially intrigued me. It seemed to me that having a Book of Order is a good way to keep everyone on the same page, so to speak! My previous experience of church was Pentecostal, and the Pentecostals I knew would have asked, “Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this?”
But I’m convinced that following the Book of Order in an open, loving way is an excellent way to remain in tune with the Spirit. It can easily be reduced to some slavish, legalistic mode of operation—I’m not talking about that. What the Book of Order can provide us, at its best, is a hedge against excess and abuse of many kinds.
There’s also a certain accountability that it provides. This runs contrary to the rebellious spirit that resides somewhere in all of us. (It definitely is in me!) This is an accountability that is especially emphasized in the questions during ordination and installation, be it of ministers of Word and Sacrament, elders, or deacons. It is put to the congregation, as well. For me, the key word in those questions is “faithful.” We are called to be faithful. We’re not called to be either tyrants or cowards.
That’s a little bit of why I am a Presbyterian!