Joining the Conversation

Brian Christopher Coulter —  November 16, 2015

Within our denomination there has recently been a call to join the conversation. Heath Rada, the current moderator from the 221st General Assembly, has invited Presbyterians across the country to participate and share what they think our identity and purpose are as the PC(USA).

let all things be done for building up


In order to do make this happen, they are attempting to reach a many of us as they can. There are certain dates/times in which any member can call in and participate in the dialogue, add their input, and be a part of this provisioning process. You can also fill out forms online or join Larissa Kwong Abazia, our vice moderator, on twitter chats about it using the hashtag: #pcusaidentity. And in addition to all this, they have encouraged us to talk more openly with each other about “who we are” and “why we are here”.

I have been surprised by some of the comments I have read and I have been pleased with many of the comments I have heard. I have also been humbled by many of the comments I have heard from people who have been in our denominational-strand of Presbyterian for more than 90 years! So today, I simply want to add my voice into the mix and lift up one very simple, but hopefully profound insight from 1st Corinthians 14.

Presbyterians have long been described as a people who do things decently and in order. This comes from our adherence to the rules, our love of structure, and our attempt to embody and live out the passage in 1st Corinthians 14:

all things should be done decently and in order.”

This line of the text comes to us in a section that is often sub-titled “Orderly Worship” and is primarily to help us gather and participate in worship together. However, since this phrase begins with the words “all things,” we have often made this about more than just worship and also about our life in community together.

I see this as a good thing. I see this in our presbytery meetings, at our General Assembly, and even in our annual review of a congregation’s session minutes. I see this in our purposeful Christian Education programs, in our intense ordination exams for teaching elders, and even in how we tend to organize who brings what to our potlucks. There is value in doing things decently and in order and this denomination has tremendously benefited from adherence to this in the past and hopefully will do so in the future as well.

But the one thing I want to lift up is another “all things” phrase from the same chapter 14 in the same section of 1st Corinthians. Paul also says just a few verses prior:

let all things be done for building up.”

Now this phrase “building up” could also be translated as “edification” (NASB) or “edifying” (KJV), which emphasizes the moral and intellectual instruction inherent in this “all things” invitation. But I don’t feel that this emphasis is what we need to focus on currently and because of my bias towards the NRSV, I am going to stick with this image of a builder. Literally, I learned that the original word here would be used more often in the sense of building of a home or for a homebuilder. And this made me think …

What kind of a home

are we currently building

within our denomination?

Building can be done poorly and unfortunately we Presbyterians have done our fair share of this kind of building. With recent declines and bickering and scandals and lawsuits, we cannot deny this. The Bible tells us that not all building is good building – it can be hurtful or harmful if you are building out of selfish ambitions, or on the wrong foundation, with the wrong materials.

Not all building is good building – but “building up” does not describe that kind of building. Paul refers to himself as a “skilled master builder” and reminds us “each builder must choose with care how to build.” I am encouraged by these conversations taking place, for I see us trying to be intentional on how we are building. And I believe this language of “builders” and “building” can only help us in this conversation.

We are also encouraged to not just be hearers, but also doers of the word so that we can continue to “build on the solid foundation“ from which we have come. The PC(USA) has a rich history of this kind of building up and a great foundation from which we can have this conversation. We stand on the shoulders of giants and have the opportunity to continue this conversation now. It is important to remember and to not lose sight of this.

And then, in Jude, we are given a final charge: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”

My hope and my prayer is simply …

that we let this

be the kind of building

that we continue to do, 

that this be a helpful language

for us as we continue our conversation, 

and that the PC(USA)

may become a denomination

that is not only known for doing thingsdecently and in order,”

but also for “building up.”

Brian Christopher Coulter

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Brian is currently serving at First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. Brian is a husband, father, pastor, author of BE HOLY, and a ping-pong champion.