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Importance of opinions.

The other day, I received a letter without an address, so I could not respond to the writer's complaint. It was typical of many letters we receive about items in the magazine. The letter put it this way: "Why are you encouraging as a regular contributor a person who espouses views contrary to our church's doctrine?"

Good question. However, the answer is more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Let me begin by quoting the purpose statement for the magazine adopted by the General Assembly a few years ago: "It [the Record] exists to publish issues relative to Christian faith and a selection of current and timely news analyses and opinions of interest or importance to Presbyterians across Canada." These words appear on the masthead of every magazine.

Please note the word "opinions." Several of our Record columns are just that -- opinions. These include Generation Y, An Everyday God and Vox Populi. I believe it is important, in the interests of truth, that there be an outlet such as the Record for Presbyterians to express their opinions. Occasionally, we are wrong, sometimes very wrong; but, on balance, we believe truth is served and God's will discerned through a free press. A free church such as ours requires candour and openness and the opportunity for all its members to express their views if we are to retain our energy, integrity and credibility.

I also believe it is especially important for our young people to have a forum in both the magazine and their congregations where they can openly express their doubts and opinions. Without this, we will lose the majority of them.

Of course, the Record always remembers, first and foremost, that it is a Presbyterian and Reformed journal and a servant of the church. I believe that would be clear through any objective reading of the magazine. In fact, some have accused us of being too parochial and Presbyterian and not allowing adequately for the dissemination of other views.

We do provide for the regular proclamation of orthodox Presbyterian views through columns such as Word Alive and a series designed for congregational study and education called Who Is Jesus? starting in Advent. The You Were Asking? column provides authoritative answers to questions about our life and doctrine.

Even if we believed only official Presbyterian views should appear in the magazine, such a goal would not be easy to accomplish. I assure you that what is officially Presbyterian has almost as many interpretations as Presbyterians in Canada. That should not be surprising. To be a member of a Presbyterian church, people are asked to commit to only the bare minimum of things -- trust in Jesus, a willingness to turn from sin and a commitment to discipleship. (Not even the questions are official.) Members are not asked to believe everything in the Westminster Confession or even what their minister believes. We hope they will seriously consider Presbyterian doctrine and that it will become a part of their lives, but what is required for membership are only the bare necessities of faith held in common by the church over the ages.

Beyond questions of reflecting correct doctrine, the Record has many other responsibilities -- collecting and disseminating church news, calling folk to a wider vision and responsibility, confronting demons and providing comfort and hope.

In fact, I still like the way the first editor of the Record put it in 1875 when our church was formed. He saw no reason why, he said, "The Presbyterian Church in Canada may not hope to establish a model magazine -- one liberal enough to give expression to every shade of opinion consistent with essential principles, catholic enough to commend itself to Christendom and cheap enough to find its way into every Presbyterian family." We are still attempting to fulfil this mandate 125 years later. I continue to believe the vast majority of Presbyterians will not allow an article or column that challenges or angers them to cut them off from the Presbyterian body. The Record remains one of the few and vital links that holds us together in one community of faith.

I hope, as well, that, in whatever form it may appear in the future, the magazine will always have the freedom to print minority and non-establishment views. The magazine needs to be a bit adversarial to keep us honest and a bit irreverent at times to keep us humble.

I hope these few words will help the writer who inspired them, and others like him, to reconsider his threat "to write off the Record" unless we change our ways. I realize this is only my opinion -- but one, I believe, most Presbyterians accept.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Presbyterian Record
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Author:Congram, John
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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