My friends from Seminary, many of them, are posting from #GA222 in Portland. Reading their posts, I feel like such a dog in the manger. “They’re happy. Why can’t you be happy for them?” I ask myself. The reason is the same reason I wouldn’t be happy if someone had cancer and they were treating it with homeopathic remedies. (“None of the side-effects of chemo!”) They may be happy, but they’re not addressing the problem.
Good grief. The brain trust at World HQ published the PC(USA) Book of Confessions as a PDF without a table of contents. Way to move (cautiously) into the 1990s!
In view of all the changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order, it’s worthwhile to look at what its Book of Confessions says it believes. We wouldn’t want our practice to get ahead of our theology, after all:
That’s pretty good. But it goes on to explain this problem as follows:
There’s as much wrong as right with the list of reasons. (1) and (3) are obviously true; (2) has some truth in it, and (4) might be true if it weren’t for people like Norman Borlaug who solve problems instead of whining about nebulous potential dangers whenever the status quo is challenged.
Another problem with this list is that by lumping everything until about WWII together and calling them “perrennial” problems, backward views about sexual relationships like those of Boko Haram and ISIL don’t rate a mention, for all the violence and sorrow they’re causing.
In other words, our confusion about the meaning of sex was reflected in the very documents that tried to address it, almost fifty years ago.
Yet it reads like a breath of fresh air in today’s climate. The last two generations have not fared well (by any metric) as a result of what appears to be not a linear but an exponential accumulation of problems.
In the intervening years, new ways our confusion is aggravated have become apparent. I would include among them, (5) by the welfare state’s need for a broad tax base, which led to the creation of many inducements for women to work outside the home, and (6) by society’s misinterpretation of marriage as being about conferring approbation of and support for sexual rather than parental relationships.
Many of these causes are in fact symptoms of another, deeper, problem: the idea that we are smarter and more enlightened than our ancestors. We have made more progress along some invisible track. This gives us the audacity (or impetuosity) to implement change based simply on theory, rather than promising results from field tests. We impose our theory across all of society rather than using small laboratory environments to discover what works and what doesn’t.
I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:
What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …
What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.
But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.
My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)
In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.
What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.
I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.
But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.
I’m an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and serve a union church of the PC(USA) and the United Methodist Church. For this reason, it always pains me to see these denominations’ national lobbying arms reflexively leaping to endorse whatever dreadful leftist nonsense is topical. Today’s D.L.N. is gun control, and the tragic shootings in Connecticut are being used as cover for a very predictable liberal effort to disarm the populace, according to the right-wing gun nuts at the New York Times:
A new federal assault weapons ban and background checks of all gun buyers, which President Obama is expected to propose on Wednesday, might have done little to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.
But that doesn’t matter to the institutional left who lobby for mainline denominations and various other progressive religious groups. These usual suspects have thrown together something called Faiths Against Gun Violence. They have a website and everything, and a list of supportive denominations (as a .DOC file, of all things!). The left’s Long March through the Institutions is complete now, at least for mainline denominations. Count this as reason #796 why the mainline denominations have become utterly irrelevant except as mutual-admiration societies.
What impresses me about these organizations is their blind faith. Not in God or Jesus or the institutional church. No, these groups are interfaith or even inter-religious; even among the Christian members that kind of faith is pretty shaky and has to bend to whatever’s trendy in the popular culture. But the faith in the benevolence of government and its ability to transform society for the better: that is unshakeable:
By banning assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, this plan will do much to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the wrong hands and prevent future tragedies like we saw last month in Newtown, Conn.,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and chair of the faith coalition.
Weapons of mass destruction? I know that these people aren’t … well, they just aren’t especially bright, but, still, you’d think they could learn the difference between firearms and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Can you imagine the surprise when all their lefty friends learn that (by this idiot definition) Iraq had W.M.D.s after all?
But it’s not just Methodists. From the same article, we see that the people Presbyterians spend their money to employ in Washington are every bit as ignorant and hysterical:
The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said political leaders can resolve the problem if they only have the will. “We are living in a society in which gun violence is making everyone vulnerable to premature death,” he said. “With over 30,000 gun deaths a year in the United States, it is time that faith leaders and others call elected officials to committed action so that gun laws are stiffened and lives are saved.”
How many of those gun deaths are from the type of firearms they purport to be concerned about? How many are from handguns? How many are due to suicides? And how will stiffening gun laws save lives? The way that stiffening drug laws have kept drugs off the streets? Or maybe the way stiffening alcohol laws did?
Here’s a thought: if you want to stop mass murder, how about institutionalizing crazy people, like the nuts who carried out the Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown murders? How about arresting jihadis like the Fort Hood shooter?
And speaking of mass murder, how about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, who have the blood of hundreds of Mexicans and at least two U.S. nationals on their hands from Operation Fast and Furious?
…turn out the lights? Another one bolts for the exit. I don’t think they’re going to be the last.
The church in Richland became one of 20 southwestern Pennsylvania congregations to vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join the EPC. Of the 400 members who voted Sunday, 368 voted to leave; only 31 voted to remain affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church and Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Township also voted to join the EPC recently.
The PC(USA) G.A. Judicial Commission to hear three major cases. One is a ruling by the Los Ranchos Presbytery to reinstate the old “fidelity and chastity” clause of the Book of Order at a more local level. The Synod ruled such resolutions were constitutional. So it’s being appealed. This is the “tails you lose, heads we win” school of polity. More-local councils should only be allowed to make decisions when they make the right decisions. Or at least the politically correct ones.
But you say, connectionalism requires that presbyteries are subordinate to [the discernment of the will of God expressed by the Holy Spirit through] the councils to which they belong? Hmm. I’m minded of this observation by Kevin DeYoung, which is generally supportive of a presbyterian approach to church discipline:
the elders in a Presbyterianism system serve as Christ’s representatives and with Christ’s authority, but they are not mini-Christs. The presbyters do not have a blank check to decide whatever they want. The keys of the kingdom must always be tied to the King’s words.
The context was discipline within the local church, but if you change elders to presbyteries, or synods, or the general assembly PJC, it’s still true.
Just take a look at the items in the “Legislative Alerts” tab.
Good grief. That’s what the PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Mission Agency (i.e. the GA Council, lately known briefly as the GA Mission Council) is doing in its Office of Public Witness?
I’ve been too busy to follow the GA closely, but I’ll post a few items that I noticed over the weekend.
(By the way: the only way to get timely information about GA seems to be by following Twitter or the RSS feeds for the Christian Post. Our denomination’s official sources are either unnavigable or updated at a tempo that is rather, umm, leisurely.)
The big news, of course, is that GA did not approve the committee’s redefinition of marriage. The defeat was by a narrow margin, however, and is probably only a matter of time, however, with the continuing exodus of more-conservative congregations.
In other news, GA:
- rejected an attempt to go back to the status quo ante ordination standards.
- amended the list of qualifications for ordination to include repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace. (Same story as previous item, but further in.)
- kicked the report of the Mid-Councils Commission to the curb. I haven’t read the report myself, but I know somewhat and have great respect for Tod Bolsinger, the Commission’s moderator, so I’m inclined to read this as a missed opportunity.
- voted to approve a number of recommendations to “support immigrants. (I’m personally unconvinced about the merits of several of these — advocating for the DREAM act, for example — as either Christian witness or public policy.)
- voted to approve recommendations of the Church Growth/PILP committee. I haven’t read the details, but nothing in the summary jumped out at me as being applicable to the church I serve. (It’s nice to talk about “igniting” a “movement,” but what it looks like is a bunch of dying white congregations giving advice to people of color about how to become growing churches. Hello?)
- renamed the General Assembly Mission Council to be the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (AT LAST!)
- failed to change the four special offerings.
- is resolved against spanking children. (But aborting them is a personal decision.)
- removed 50 authoritative interpretations of the Book of Order issued since Unification back in ’83 that had been made moot by the New Form of Government.
There’s nothing to rejoice over in this report from the PC(USA)’s Research Services unit. Since reunification, the denomination has lost an average of 40,541 members a year (net) and we’re down about a third, from about three million down to a hair over two.
The headline (“Fewer members = smaller congregations”) says what might be the most disturbing thing about our decline. The average congregation has dropped in size from 268 in 1983 to 152 today. In the same period, the median size of a congregation has declined from 195 to 97.
Fully half of our congregations (mine among them) have 100 or fewer members–and that’s members, not worship attenders. God is still in heaven, and Jesus fed a multitude with just five loaves and two fishes, but even so, how many of those congregations are financially viable?