Scotland the confused: Did the Presbyterians endorse gay clergy?: Get Religion, May 23, 2013. May 23, 2013Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, Press criticism.
Tags: Associated Press, gay clergy, Guardian, Press Association
Something happened on Monday at the General Assembly the Church of Scotland — they appear to have become Anglicans. No — they didn’t change from a Presbyterian to Episcopal form of church government. They did something more Anglican than combining bishops with Calvinism. They’ve accepted the sacred “yes/but” Anglican doctrine of deliberate confusion, and have adopted a policy on gay clergy that no one quite seems to understand.
Let’s compare headlines and ledes from the Guardian, the Press Association and the Associated Press to see what they think happened.
The Guardian saw Monday’s vote as a victory for the liberal faction in the church that is seeking to change church teaching on homosexuality. Under the headline “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers” it reported: (seems I’ve heard that before — but don’t let me distract you.)
The Church of Scotland, the country’s largest Protestant church, has narrowly voted to admit gay and lesbian ministers after traditionalists agreed to compromise after four years of division. The church’s ruling general assembly voted to allow congregations to admit gay ministers but only if they specifically elect to do so, in a radical departure from more than 450 years of orthodoxy set in train by the protestant reformer John Knox.
The Press Association was less sanguine. It took a “two steps forward one step back” approach to the story. The headline used by the Huffington Post with the PA story gave the liberals the win — ”Church of Scotland votes for openly gay ministers” – but the lede did not back it up:
The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing openly gay men and women to become ministers – whilst maintaining a traditionalist standpoint. The General Assembly backed a motion affirming the Church’s “current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality”, but permitting liberal congregations to depart from that approach if they wish to do so.
The Associated Press report was even more cautious than the PA and filed a “yes, but” story implying the decision was a draw. The headline that topped the AP story as printed on the FOXNews website stated: “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers, but only if congregations choose to do so”.
Senior members of the Church of Scotland have voted to let some congregations have openly gay ministers, a compromise first step that could lead to the church allowing gay clergy. The church’s General Assembly backed a motion affirming a traditional conservative view on homosexuality, but permitted liberal congregations to “opt out” if they wish to ordain gay men or women. The assembly vote would require the approval of next year’s General Assembly as well as votes by the church’s regional presbyteries to become law. The process is expected to take at least two years.
You can see this diversity of interpretation in the British press as well as and blogs that follow church issues. So what did happen on Monday?
The always excellent Law & Religion UK blog summarized the day as follows:
Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in principle to allow men and women in civil partnerships to be ordained to the ministry and/or inducted as parish ministers. There were various options before the Assembly:
- the Revisionist option, which would allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed – but would allow individual kirk sessions to opt out of the arrangement;
- the Traditionalist option, under which no new minister in a civil partnership could be ordained or inducted; and
- a countermotion to section 2 of the proposed Deliverance by the immediate past Moderator of the Assembly, The Very Revd Albert Bogle, which reaffirmed the Kirk’s traditional view on the issue but would allow an individual Kirk Session to choose to call a minister in a civil partnership if it so wished.
In short, the Kirk voted for the compromise resolution which affirmed the church’s traditional theological stance against gay clergy, but nevertheless allowed individual congregations to opt out and engage gay clergy — an outcome the British delight in calling a “fudge”.
Each of the newspapers reported that there will be no immediate change as the bill must now go to a legal committee to be submitted to the 2014 General Assembly. If adopted, it will be sent to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act 1697 because the issue touches upon “doctrine or worship or discipline”. Only if a majority of presbyteries approved the bill and the General Assembly confirms it in 2015, will it become law.
None of the articles I’ve cited above are incorrect. But they are lacking in historical context and failed to tell the full story. This is actually a defeat for the liberals. The 2011 General Assembly was presented with two options: affirm the traditionalist position and keep the ban in place on gay clergy, or endorse the progressive position which asked the assembly to consider lifting the ban on clergy in same-sex relationships and to instruct the church’s theological commission to prepare a report for the 2013 General Assembly on the relevant issues.
The 2011 assembly backed the progressive option and the theological commission released its report last month that summarized the revisionist and traditionalist arguments for and against same-sex relationships. But the commission was unable to reach an agreement over which one it should recommend to the General Assembly for adoption. This week’s vote represented a setback for the left in that the trajectory of the Church of Scotland had been that conservatives would be allowed to “opt out” on gay clergy. The bill passed on Monday instead offered an “opt in” for liberals on gay clergy.
In its 2011 report on the General Assembly the Guardian used the same headline as it did on Monday. “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers” its article of 23 May 2011. The lede that day was:
Scotland’s largest protestant church has voted to allow gay men and lesbians to become ministers.
It is a bit awkward for the Guardian to publish the same story on the same issue two years apart.
The second bit of context that would’ve helped was the report in the theological commissions paper that stated that only 35% of members of presbyteries supported the ordination of persons in a same-sex relationships. For the the bill to pass in 2015 the liberals must move support for gay clergy from 35% to 51%.
These press reports would give the casual reader the impression the Church of Scotland is shifting its stance on gay clergy. A shift has taken place but it occurred not on Monday but over the past quarter-century. The problem with these Church of Scotland articles is that the reporters assigned to these stories bring only a limited amount of knowledge to their reporting on the topics they are assigned to cover. Would a reporter who knew this topic make the mistake the Guardian did, proclaiming in 2011 and again in 2013 the Church of Scotland has voted to allow gay clergy?
The market is responding by supporting specialty websites and publications. There are a number of fine Presbyterian publications and websites where you can find these issues debated and discussed in full. You just won’t find it in the newspaper on your front doorstep any more.
First printed in Get Religion.
Church of Scotland pulls anti-Israel report from its website: The Church of England Newspaper, May 19, 2013 p 7. May 22, 2013Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
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The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council has withdrawn a report that claimed Scripture provided no warrant for Jewish claims to the land of Israel.
Prepared for the 18 May meeting of the church’s General Assembly the ten-page report entitled “The Inheritance of Abraham” urged the Church of Scotland to join the boycott and divestment movement against Israel. It also said “claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory” were unfounded.
Scripture based claims raised “an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning,” the document said, adding that it believed Jews felt they had a right to take Palestinian land “as compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust”.
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and the Israeli ambassador denounced the report and urged it be withdrawn. “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful,” Ambassador Daniel Taub said.
The report did draw support however from Palestinian activists. The Rev. Stephen Sizer, rector of Christ Church Virginia Water said “Church of Scotland is to be commended for their report.”
He defended the report from its detractors saying “in no sense does the report disenfranchise anyone from legitimate rights to citizenship in Israel and Palestine, merely the claim made by some Zionists that the Bible mandates an exclusive right to the land for the Jewish people alone.”
“On the contrary the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence was always conditional,” Mr. Sizer said on 8 May.
However on 9 May 2013 the report was removed from the Church of Scotland’s website and a statement posted in its place saying the Church and Society Council had agreed to rewrite the report with a “new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.”
Church of Scotland moderator calls upon Parliament to eradicate slavery: Church of England Newspaper, November 11, 2012 p 6. November 13, 2012Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
Tags: Albert Bogle, slavery, Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Albert Bogle, has written to Prime Minister David Cameron urging the government to tackle problem of modern day slavery.
In his 30 Oct 2012 letter, Mr. Bogle urged the government to back the private members bill offered by Labour MP Michael Connarty “Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill” which had its second reading in the House of Commons on 2 November. The Bill has gained broad civil society support, including the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility but has not yet been endorsed by the Church of England.
“Surely tackling modern day slavery at the point of demand, by applying pressure on companies to desist from practices which involve the use of forced or child labour is imperative for ensuring the complete eradication of this abhorrent eradication of human rights,” asked Mr. Bogle.
Mr Bogle wrote that “The Church of Scotland’s approach to human trafficking is ‘to be silent is to be unfaithful.’ We have a commitment to the dignity of every human being, created in God’s image, and with bias to the marginalised, vulnerable and poor means that if we do not speak out against such monstrous injustices we are not living up to our calling.”
Tags: Colorado Springs Gazette, First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, Irish Times, Issues Etc., Sean Brady
In this week’s podcast Issues Etc. host Todd Wilkin and I discussed two recent GetReligion stories: the withdrawal of First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs from the PC(USA) and the latest developments in the Irish abuse scandals.
As Nathaniel Campbell noted in his comment on the Colorado Springs article, the press frequently conflates the disputes within the mainline denominations into a single issue — homosexuality.
there are deeper but acknowledged issues here over hermeneutics and the evangelical insistence on privileging (often exclusionarily) a literal reading of Scripture.
In my estimation, at least, that is the major “ghost” behind a lot of mainstream/evangelical friction. While on the surface level it manifests as doctrinal disputes, I think it is at root a problem over how to read and understand Scripture.
Wilkin and I discuss the issue of press blindness, noting the divisions within the mainline churches do not stop at homosexuality as the breakaway groups are divided over another Scripture-driven issue: women clergy.
We also look at the coverage in the Irish Times over the fallout from the 1 May 2012 documentary “The Shame of the Catholic Church”, where the BBC claimed that as a young priest in the early 1970’s Cardinal Sean Brady failed to take sufficient action in the case of pedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
I argued that the advocacy journalism approach taken by the Irish Times in its reporting on the Catholic Church was self-defeating. By adopting a relentlessly hostile approach to coverage of the Catholic Church,the Irish Times was preaching to the choir. Those ill-disposed to the church would find confirmation of their views, while those supportive of the church would see their reporting as biased.
The comments to the story demonstrated this. As one commentator noted:
The Irish establishment, including their media, has long been anti Catholic, because the church stood in the way of Ireland becoming “modern” (read divorce, birth control and abortion). The “abuse” saga is a godsend to them to destroy the influence of the church, which was standing in the way of a modern forward looking culture. Perhaps this is why the story is made to sound as if the church is again being it’s old stubborn old fashioned self.
In its simplest sense, the problem with advocacy journalism is that it is based on the supposition that there is no one truth. Truth is subjective, or relative — I have my truth, you have yours. Why then should the journalist strive for balance or fairness, when at heart there is no single point of reference in which to frame a story?
First printed in GetReligion.
Interview: Issues Etc, May 11, 2012 May 12, 2012Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Colorado Springs Gazette, First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, Irish Times, Sean Brady
Here is a link to a radio interview I gave to Lutheran Public Radio‘s Issues, Etc. program first broadcast on May 11, 2012.
The topics were the vote by First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs to withdraw from the PCUSA and the press coverage of the Irish clergy abuse scandal.
Tags: First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs
Thou shakest thy head and hold’st it fear or sin
To speak a truth. If he be slain, say so;
The tongue offends not that reports his death:
And he doth sin that doth belie the dead,
Not he which says the dead is not alive.
Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
Hath but a losing office, and his tongue
Sounds ever after as a sullen bell,
Remember’d tolling a departing friend.
The Earl of Northumberland in Henry IV part II
Act I, scene 1, lines 95-103
Blaming the teller of bad news for the bad news is as old as time. Reporters who break stories about malfeasance in churches are often attacked for airing dirty linen. I’ve been reproached by those perturbed by what they read in my stories about bad behavior in churches. My critics argue that as a Christian (which I am) and a priest (which I am) I should suppress discomforting or embarrassing news. I should take as my guide Matthew 18:15-17.
15 If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
I am not persuaded by their Biblical exegesis nor by the merits of the argument, believing that truth telling is a higher virtue than face saving. The phrase, “shooting the messenger” is a valid rejoinder to these criticisms,
The same retort can be applied to media criticism. Complaining about what something is not, rather than addressing what it is, is a form of shooting the messenger. When there is a hole in a story a reader should not assume the reporter is responsible. Some things are unknowable — try as we like, reporters are not omniscient.
A recent story in The Colorado Springs Gazette on the disaffiliation of one of the state’s largest churches from its parent denomination — the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. (PCUSA) — brought this problem to mind.
Let me say up front there is nothing wrong with the article on the First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs’ vote to leave its presbytery — it is a workman-like story that relates crisply the facts. But The Gazette story entitled “Sparked by acceptance of gay ministers, First Presbyterian bolts denomination” seemed to be missing something. This something was not the rather dumb headline. The story makes it clear that it was not only about gay ministers and the church didn’t bolt — but reporters do not write headlines and this brick forms no part of my critique.
The lede is clean and lays out the facts well:
In an historic vote Sunday morning, the largest Presbyterian church in Colorado voted overwhelmingly to leave its governing body and join a new, more conservative denomination.
An estimated 95.5 percent of the 1,769 congregants who cast ballots at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs voted to leave the mainstream Presbyterian Church USA in favor of the newly-created Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
The new denomination was created with the help of First Presbyterian’s senior pastor Jim Singleton.
The reporter’s editorial voice comes into play at this stage through her selection of quotes — and to her credit she does not play favorites. After relating the news of the vote, the author addressed the question of the minority who opposed the vote — identified as 80 out of almost 1780 members who voted. The first quote comes from a church spokesman who acknowledges that “some members may leave.
This is followed by a quote from a church spokesman stating the vote was historic. Background on the church and its decision to leave the PCUSA follows with The Gazette avoiding the mistake of portraying this as being solely a gay issue.
Sunday’s vote was the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work by church leaders who wanted to distance themselves from the Presbyterian Church USA. That organization voted in 2011 to allow openly gay ministers to be ordained, but First Presbyterian leaders say the divide is greater than just that issue – going back to a basic way that scriptures are read and interpreted.
“God has called us to respond to his call, step into something new and hold firm to our understanding of scripture,” Cindy Sparks, chair of the church’s Board of Trustees said Sunday morning.
Further detail on the vote and what happens next follow, as does a quote from a member of the minority opposed to the split, and closing quote from a member of the majority. All in all this was a very clean story.
But it was also incomplete. The pastor is quoted as saying this was historic. Well why was it historic? The story is not clear on this point. Was it historic for First Pres, for Presbyterians in Colorado, for all Presbyterians?
I was struck by the weakness of the pastor’s comments reported in the article as to why it was historic. Did the reporter not do her job? Did she not understand what was said? I think she did. The problem was that she was not given much to work with.
When I checked the church’s website and read the statement issued after the vote, I found that all the reporter had to work with were some rather anodyne comments. If you want to know why this was a “historic day”, you won’t find an answer from the church.
As an aside — What is it about Colorado Springs and conservative churches? First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs was the largest PCUSA congregation in Colorado and it quit is denomination. In 2007 Colorado’s largest Episcopal Church, Grace and St Stephen’s in Colorado Springs, quit its denomination over the same basic issues as First Presbyterian. That split ended badly for the parish and the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado — the Presbyterians appear to have avoided the path of litigation. Is there something in the air, or unique to the culture of that community that would see schisms in two mainline congregations — as well as produce inordinately large Episcopal and Presbyterian churches?
To find out why this was historic — and why this story has wider significance you need to do some research in the congregation’s website. What is the significance of the choice of First Pres’s new denomination? The article mentions that the pastor, Jim Singleton, helped form the ECO — Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians — but why did the church not join one of the existing conservative Presbyterian groups?
A letter to the congregation on the church website states that it was the issue of women ministers that led First Pres to the ECO, as the existing conservative groups were not as accepting of women clergy as was First Pres.
One of the subtexts often unreported in the stories about the mainline splits is the question of women clergy. Conservatives leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church may be at odds with their denomination’s teachings on human sexuality, and they may express this as being a division over the interpretation of Scripture, but amongst themselves they are divided over women clergy.
And this division over women clergy is driven by the interpretation of Scripture. What criteria is First Pres using to say that the PCUSA has broken with Scripture over homosexual clergy, but not over women clergy? In asking this question, I am not assuming an answer — rather seeking development of an issue. One, for example, that may well divide the nascent Anglican conservative church, the Anglican Church in North America, and is dividing First Pres and the ECO from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
I also liked this article from The Gazette because it did not make the mistake so often made by newspapers in distilling the mainline splits into a story about opposition to gay ministers or gay marriage. That is part, but is far from the whole story. It is the back half of the story — the question of where these breakaway churches are going and why — that was missing. And, if the church can’t explain why — a reporter can’t tell her readers why.
The first bringer of unwelcome news, as Shakespeare observes, hath but a losing office. Beating up on the press for omitting part of a story is easy. But when the actors in the drama don’t say their lines — the reporter is unable to say it for them.
What say you GetReligion readers? Is this a case of the subject, not the journalist, dropping the ball? Who should be telling this story?
Regimental colours retired in Edinburgh: The Church of England Newspaper, March 8, 2012 March 8, 2012Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
Tags: Canongate Kirk, Royal Scots, The Princess Royal
The Colours of the two historic Scottish regiments were retired last month at an ecumenical service at Edinburgh Castle. On 4 February 2012 HRH The Princess Royal received the regimental colours of the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and the 2nd Battalion 52nd Lowland Volunteers at the Kirk of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle. Infantry Battalions carry two colours, the Queen’s Colour, a Union Flag with the regiments First and Second World War Battle Honours emblazoned on its face, and the Regimental Colour which carries the unit’s pre-1914 battle honours.
The present colours were presented by Princess Anne, the Colonel-in-chief of the two regiments in 2003 and in 1985. Following the amalgamation of the regiments the colours will be retired and laid up at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.
First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
The sound you may hear from a Wee Free chapel might just be singing. After 147 years, the Free Church of Scotland, the “Wee Frees” have relaxed their ban on musical instruments and hymn singing.
On Nov 19 following two days of what was described by the church as “harmonious” debate, a special synod of the Free Church of Scotland voted 98-84 to allow individual congregations to decide whether to permit the liberty of using music in worship services.
Formed in 1847 following the secession of evangelicals from the Church of Scotland over what they saw as the state’s encroachment on their spiritual independence, the majority of the Free Church returned to the Church of Scotland in the last century. However, a dissenting group based in the Highlands and the Western Isles remained outside and continues the name and polity of the Free Church.
The church’s canons had called for the “avoidance of uninspired materials of praise and musical instruments” in worship, leading the Wee Frees to focus their musical efforts on Psalm singing, as the Psalms, being part of the Scriptures, were inspired, while modern hymns were not.
In 2005 the moderator of the Free Church, the Rev. Donald Smith, opened debate over relaxing the ban, and a motion was brought to the 2010 synod by the church’s Board of Trustees to confirm its ban on music. However, the motion was opposed by moderates within the church led by the Rev. Alex Macdonald who urged adoption of a “local option” on hymn singing.
The General Assembly resolved that “purity of worship requires that every aspect of worship services, including sung praise, be consistent with the Word of God and with the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith approved by previous Assemblies of this Church.”
Each Kirk Session was given the “freedom, either to restrict the sung praise to the Psalms, or to include paraphrases of Scripture, and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the doctrine of the Confession of Faith; that each Kirk Session shall have freedom whether to permit musical accompaniment to the sung praise in worship, or not.”
However, hymn singing could not be imposed upon a congregation without the approval of its minister. While the majority concluded that music could be used in worship to glorify God, the General Assembly recognized the “divisive nature of the issue” and affirmed its “commitment to unity and urge[d] officebearers and members to find ways of continuing in unity after the Assembly.”
The debate over hymnody in the Free Church of Scotland has followed the same path as the Nineteenth century debate over music at worship in the Church of England. Modern hymnody was introduced by Evangelicals by the close of the Eighteenth century, who cited its utility. High churchmen opposed the innovation, saying a warrant for hymn singing could not be found in the Book of Common Prayer or Scripture.
In 1819 the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Sheffield, the Rev. Richard Cotterill, published “A Selection of Psalms and Hymns” adapted for use in the Church of England. The evangelical Mr. Cotterill was brought before the Archbishop of York’s Consistory Court upon charges of violating the rubrics of the Prayer Book for using hymns in worship. The chancellor found Mr. Cotterill guilty, ruling that hymn singing was irregular. However the court declined to impose costs and suspended the imposition of a sentence, citing the benefits of hymn singing.
The issue was resolved by Mr. Cotterill withdrawing his hymnal, and publishing a new less Evangelical edition that contained the imprimatur of the Archbishop of York. The court’s decision gave tacit permission for hymn singing, which was not formally approved for use in worship until 1872.
New Zealand churches reject embryo sex selection: CEN 10.06.08 October 6, 2008Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Church of England Newspaper, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
|A government Bioethics Council’s recommendation that New Zealand relax its ban on allowing parents to select the gender of their children through prenatal testing has drawn sharp opposition from the country’s Protestant Churches.
In June, the state Bioethics Council released a report stating that when embryos are created outside the womb, parents should be permitted to select the sex of the baby. However, this practice poses major ethical dilemmas, the Interchurch Bioethics Council (ICBC) said, and should be forbidden.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper
The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Church of Scotland have executed an ecumenical partnership agreement to foster Christian minister in Israel and Palestine. Representatives of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council led by the Rev. Colin Renwick met with the Rt. Rev. Suhaeil Dawani from April 4-6 at St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in West Jerusalem to resurrect the partnership which in recent years had been left fallow.
The agreement committed the Anglican and Presbyterian churches in the Holy Land to “revive and reactivate our partnership in the faith, witness and service of our churches and institutions in the region” and to develop joint congregations in Jaffa and Tiberias as well as promoting the twining of Scottish and Palestinian congregations and pulpit exchanges.
The two churches will also create a “joint institution in Tiberias for interfaith dialogue, peace and reconciliation,” as well as merge the operations of their “pilgrimage tours”.
Bishop Suheil challenged the Presbyterian Church to focus its work in the region on “peace, justice, healing and reconciliation” and called it “to teach and educate all people to accept each other, urging the practice of interfaith fellowship and dialogue.”
“We have created a small joint working group to take our partnership plans forward,” the communiqué said, and are “greatly encouraged by our fellowship together, and delighted to pursue together our shared faith and partnership in Christ’s work and the building up of his Church.”