I have been hearing about grace and gratitude as a way to articulate our faith as Reformed Presbyterians. Would you tell me more about this?
Our inability to articulate our identity is rooted in our history. You can ask any group of pastors and elders, “Why are we called Presbyterians?” Someone will answer quickly, “Because we’re ruled by elders.” That’s the right answer, of course, and it gets to an important affirmation of the parity of teaching and ruling elders that is important to us. Nonetheless, it doesn’t really answer the question. Many church traditions have elders in their leadership but don’t call themselves Presbyterians. Many churches have presbyteries, or something very much like them, but don’t call themselves Presbyterians. Most Reformed churches around the world don’t call themselves Presbyterians. We’re called Presbyterians because, at one point in our history, the most significant ecclesial dispute was how the church was to be governed.
The late 16th and early 17th centuries in England and Scotland were a time of revolution against the monarchy and vigorous, new debates about how people should be governed. This discussion on governance spanned both state and church. In political matters, some were monarchists, some favored governance through elected representatives, while others wanted a pure democracy. In a parallel discussion in the church, some people believed in government by bishops; others, government by elders; and still others, government by the people of the congregations—hence, the birth of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. Reformed Christians are known as Presbyterians only in England, Scotland, and their descendants around the world.
In this formative period of our tradition, governance was the most important question. The legacy of our origin means we often lead with matters of polity to characterize identity. While this is true, it is hardly a vision that will fuel decades of ministry.
So grace and gratitude is our Presbyterian identity?
What emerges from the core of our identity that compels us to practice Christian community, proclaim the gospel, and work for justice? Grace and gratitude. Grace and gratitude succinctly and winsomely describes the charism, the gift of the Reformed tradition. Each tradition has a gift that it offers to the church ecumenical. Grace and gratitude is our gift to the wider church.
Grace and gratitude is also our theological and spiritual vision. What is our picture of God? The gracious one who comes to us in creation, in the law, in the prophets, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ. The God who sustains us with the ongoing grace of the Holy Spirit. The God who calls us through the church. The God who is for us.
The most profound articulation of this theological and spiritual vision comes from the French baptismal liturgy developed by the Huguenot church in the Reformation:
Little one, for you Jesus Christ came into the world:
for you he lived and showed God’s love;
for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
and cried at the last, “It is accomplished”;
for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life;
for you he ascended to reign at God’s right hand.
All this he did for you, little one,
though you do not know it yet.
And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled:
“We love because God loved us first.”
—French Reformed Church baptismal liturgy (Church of Scotland version)
What was the development process for Growing in Grace & Gratitude?
About eighteen months ago, the editorial staff of Congregational Ministries Publishing was starting to develop a new denominational children’s curriculum. Since the development was in the infancy stages, we were evaluating the direction the new curriculum should take. We were certain that it needed to be more than just informational. It needed to be transformational.
We were wrestling with how to develop a curriculum that articulates our denominational identity while encouraging children to practice Christian community, proclaim the gospel, and work for justice.
When we heard about the idea of “grace and gratitude” from our colleagues in the Office of Theology and Worship, we knew it was our way forward. We could imagine a curriculum that helps transform the lives of children and those who love them, shaped by grace and gratitude.