Recently, I heard somebody of some import and seniority suggest that we should scrap the previous form of subscription for the new one based on the metaphor of chapel attendance. It seems that when this person was in college she was required to attend chapel and did much to avoid the requirement, and according to her testimony, her low views of Chapel were shared by many of her classmates. However, once she graduated college the college lifted the mandated attendance requirement and, mirable dictu, voluntary chapel attendance blossomed like thousands of acres of Tulips after a fresh spring rain.
Obviously the illustration was supposed to prove that requiring somebody to sign the Form of Subscription only makes them want to do everything they can to avoid what is required of them while, so the thinking goes, if we make signing less onerous then the result will be that everybody will take the Three Forms of Unity seriously, just as lifting mandatory chapel attendance resulted in massive chapel attendance.
Now, as one who could never be outstripped in finding creative ways to avoid mandatory chapel attendance I found this analogy intriguing. The problem though is the metaphor doesn’t really fit. First, requiring people to sign the form of subscription is more akin to requiring somebody to consummate their marriage after they are married. The attitude is not, ‘well, if I have to,’ but rather, ‘well, duh, that’s one reason I signed up.’ Just so with the Form of Subscription. A requirement to sign the document should be met with a ‘well, that’s why I’m here to begin with,’ and not a ‘well, if you’re going to make me, I guess I will, but boy promising to defend those Three Forms of Unity is like being asked to go to worthless chapel services.’
Second, the metaphor doesn’t fit unless what is included is that the new document really means that the requirement is that you don’t have to uphold the three forms of unity any more. In the above metaphor it was the release from attending chapel that supposedly freed people to attend chapel. If the metaphor is going to fit we would have to say that we no longer require a form of subscription, in any sense at all, believing that the results would be that deacons and elders would instantly begin to defend the Three Forms of Unity. With the new ‘covenant of ordination’ we haven’t released people from going to chapel, unless of course that is really what the subtext is.
Still, if the whole denomination is consistent with polling I recently read where only 17% of a small sampling of denominational Ministers, Elders, and Deacons, have read the Three Forms of Unity in the last ten years, I’m not sure why we should have a Form of Subscription, a Covenant of Ordination, a note from Mother excusing us from swearing allegiance, or any other kind of promissory process.
Now, I need to finish this so I can get to Chapel. You wouldn’t believe how many of those things I have yet to make up.