Clifton Kirkpatrick, in his final year as stated clerk of the PCUSA, seems determined to make lots of people glad that he’s riding off into the sunset. In a “message for the church from the General Assembly stated clerk,” he offers his thoughts on what constitutes the “essentials”:
I hear a good bit of conversation in the church these days about “essentials.”
Some are concerned about the church’s fidelity to the Reformed faith; others, about the essentials of faithful Christian living. All seem to want us to honor and celebrate our diversity, while being clear about the core values and common expectations for our life in Christ that hold us together as a community.
This is not the first time God’s people have had this conversation.
At which point he repairs to Scripture, and specifically to Micah, chapter 6:
Micah reminds us that God does not require elaborate rituals or detailed theological affirmations, but rather three things.
The first is to do justice. In a world and a nation where the gap is growing daily between the rich and the poor and where war and rumors of war are the order of the day, God expects us as faithful Christians to be doers of justice and to prophetically call for the things that make for justice and peace.
The second essential is to love kindness. We need to “talk the talk” in calling for a world of justice and peace, and to “walk the walk” as we relate to one another with kindness and compassion. We are called to be a living demonstration of the love of Christ to our friends and neighbors — and to our enemies and those who have a special need for a visible demonstration of the love of Christ.
The third essential — and the foundation for the other two — is to walk humbly with God. It is only through prayer, dependence on the love of Christ, and being open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we will be given the strength to live out Christ’s call to justice and compassion. We must nurture our roots if our branches are to bear fruit!
Sooooooo…all that stuff about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the crucifixion and resurrection, the atonement–we can just lay it aside as part of that “detailed theological affirmation” that God doesn’t require of us. All we need is to “do justice” (which apparently translates nicely into left-wing politics), “love kindness,” and “walk humbly,” which is an attitude of heart. There nothing wrong with any of these, of course; indeed, they are required of God’s people. But even Micah would have, I’m sure, said that these needed to be paired with (at least) “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In other words, behind justice, kindness, and humility is the God who identity is of paramount importance. Without knowing whom we are being just and kind in the name of, and who it is we are to walk humbly with, all we have are good deeds and noble attitudes. But for at least one mainline denominational official, that would seem to be all we need.