The recent General Assembly directed the Office of Theology and Worship to begin implementing a directive from the Assembly of 2001 that called for a church-wide dialogue on pastoral issues at the end of life.
The action of that Assembly states an intent that the churchwide dialogue would serve as a model for similar discussions in lower governing bodies. The purpose is to help the church find its mind on ministry at the end of life. What ought we to be preaching and teaching and counseling. How ought we to be caring for our brothers and sisters as they approach the end of their days, either because of illness or age.
End of life is an area where the church does poorly
Surveys of individuals and families who have faced end of life issues reveal that the church does poorly in this area. Most people do not even think about seeking the counsel of the church. But most people, according to surveys, are fearful about their spiritual readiness to face death.
Nevertheless, most people turn to professionals and family members for counsel instead of the church. Seminaries spend little time with students exploring the moral decisions and pastoral care needs families face at the end of life.
Physicians replace pastors as moral and spiritual counselors
Pastors and elders are generally confused about how to apply biblical teaching to modern technology and the medical field’s ability to extend or end a life. Most pastors and sessions have never discussed such issues as counseling with members of the congregation on initiating or removing life support. It is no wonder that so many regard physicians as the new priesthood. They have become the pastors and decision makers for most families.
We need to engage the issues within our theological framework
The directive of the General Assembly to begin the hard work of addressing the issues at the end of life within a reformed theological framework is a helpful step. As Pastor Mark Patterson says elsewhere in this newsletter, it is necessary to get our theology right if we hope to get our ethics right. And our pastoral care ministry ought to flow directly from the ethic that is born of our biblical theology.
Let us all pray for the work of the Office of Theology and Worship on this subject.
PPL has resources on the end of life. Contact us.