Reading with Grace Colored Glasses

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Proverbs 26:4–5 (ESV)

This year I have the opportunity to once again serve the church as a reader for the Ordination Exams.  For those not in the know, as candidates prepare for ordination, one of the final requirements is completing, successfully, the ordination exams.  There are four written exams, covering Worship, Theology, Polity (church governance), and Biblical Exegesis.

Having read for three years now I can honestly say I have read some excellent papers by students who have demonstrated a tremendous ability to combine biblical wisdom with pastoral sensitivity – truly a difficult thing to show in a quickly written essay.  At the same time, I have read some real stinkers.  As a reader you have to remember that the essays are timed, mostly closed book, and the candidates have no idea what the questions will be – so one reads with a great measure of grace.  Still, every now and then you get a paper with some very memorable lines – I share some of the best with you now:

 Um, what?

“As a part of our Presbyterian polity we purposefully have systems of checks and balances related to power.  In most cases this is done for the simple reason that we want to protect all of us from making bad decisions.”

The question that came first was, “Really?  How’s that working for you?”  Is our Presbyterian polity just there to keep us from making bad decisions?  If so, would simply abiding by the Book of Order more closely keep us from these bad decisions?

 First place in the long jump goes to…

Jesus said: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus went on to say that on this precept hangs the law and the prophets.  The law being church polity and the prophets being our instruction to do all things with love and with the heart’s desire to restore the church.

So the Book of Order (polity) is now equal to the 10 Commandments (law), and our effort to passionately feel good about the church is the new prophecy…  It has been a year since I first read this and I still get dizzy thinking about it.

 But I really love you…

“It is important to remember that I love you as much as the pastor does.”

If I remember correctly, the scenario for this question was “You are an associate pastor and a member of your congregation come to you…”  Still, how do you measure how much the pastor loves the church member, and whether your love is equal to or greater than the Senior Pastor’s love?  Can you get the love meter on Ebay?

 Confidentially speaking…

“The pastor is the primary shepherd and I honor that position by keeping the pastor well informed about any communications between individual in the congregation and me.”

I can imagine this candidate wondering aloud in his office, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come to me for counseling?  I’m such a great listener.”

 And last but not least the Bulwer-Lytton Contest winner – (you know, “It was a dark and stormy night”)

As the Presbyterian Church USA we submit ourselves to a form of government that is outlined in the constitution that is made up of the documents that are found in the Presbyterian Book of Order and Book of Confessions.

It took great discipline to finish reading this essay.  Of all the “no duh” statements ever written in the ordination exams, this has to have been the “no duh-iest.”

Just to be fair – I’ve also included a response that I wrote that I was later asked to rewrite.  Once the exams are evaluated, the evaluations are read to check for fairness and to squelch and cheeky and sarcastic replies – here was mine:

 Snark Alert

“Of the many problems that plague this answer, not addressing the question at hand is foremost.”

It was recommended that I rewrite the answer, then perhaps take a 15 minute break.

I beg your prayers and supplications as I head off to Chicago on Sunday to read the exams.  May this be a blessing for the church, for the candidates, the readers, and in all things may God be glorified and Christ our Savior be praised.


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