Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why We Fight

This is a response to a fellow candidate (who is also having trouble getting certified ready-to-call):

What I really want to focus on is your last paragraph. I think that as a denomination, we've already bulldozed the road to being a practices-only institution. This demonic trend began when we refused to do the hard work of discipline in the 1920s. We also refused to do the hard work of finding a way forward within the boundaries of Westminster-styled orthodoxy.

As you know, both personal and institutional integrity depend on appropriate boundaries. The Presbyterian church always allowed some leeway within Westminster Confessionalism through clear and full declaration of scruples antecedent to licensure. Afterwards, you could always go before the Presbytery to declare or renege any points. There was a sense that it was appropriate to be accountable to the larger church for your doctrine. It also fostered a healthy ecumenism because it recognized the catholicity inherent in our system whereby we delimited the body so that we could pursue ministry with less destructive friction and more constructive friction (still a useful end for denominations, as recent studies show).

Joan Gray held up a tiny book that is on my shelf as well. It was the Book of Order for the PCUS. It was small and simple, and it relied on people trusting others. Contrast that with the other small PCUS book on my shelf, entitled The Confession of Faith. It has the Westminster Confession and Catechisms with full Scriptural annotations printed underneath the text on every page. Because you trusted your neighbor on these eternal truths, the outworking of day-to-day decisions could be trusted as well. It didn't mean we agreed on every decision, but that there was a strong layer of cohesion (social, intellectual, theological, and ecclesial) that provided the necessary elasticity to deal with contentious issues. As a minister in my presbytery has repeatedly shown, doctrinal integrity carries very little importance in the PC(USA). You have to know it in order to pass the ords, but believing and preaching good doctrine doesn't really matter.

No wonder we're left with nothing to fight about except bedroom matters and money!


regressivepresby said...

Thoughtful, thanks. Being a yankee from the midwest, I am unfamiliar with the PCUS. But I keep hearing good things about it, especially the coherence it had. Not being particularly romantic, I'm also sure there were some significant downsides- but noentheless, thanks for the lesson and thoughts.

btw- last time I tested, I too came out INTP, although not nearly as strong in the I category as you appear to be. I find I've changed over the years- being married and then having children- pushes me more towards the introverted side of things. Monkeys love looking in mirrors, don't they? ;-)


Chris said...

Where I come from, most of the churches were from the old Southern Branch (PCUS), so I figured that - on a national basis - I'd find more of the same (with little blips of weirdness from TAMFS, MLP, etc.). Boy, was I wrong.

Something that's telling is that when I got orientated at headquarters, Charles Wiley gave the "Presbyterianism 101" lecture. He showed how, since the PCUS and the UPCUSA merged, we've basically lost the entire Northern branch.

As of 1982, the PCUS had 6,077 Clergy, 4,250 congregations, and 814,931 members. The UPCUSA had 15,093 clergy, 8,909 churches, and 2,342,441 members. The merger brought those numbers to 21,170 clergy, 13,159 congregations, and 3,157,372 members.

As of 2005 we have a net gain of 142 clergy. We have a net loss of 2,199 congregations, and a net loss of 843,710 members.

In perspective, we've LOST HALF of the congregations from the Southern branch and LOST ALL of its members.

Bayou Christian said...


When I chaired the CPM I was shocked to realize that of 10 candidates under care 5 were INTP's and 3 were INTJ's.

It's not that there is anything wrong with either type but to have two of the rarest personality types as the majority of our candidates was scary.

It was at that point that I began to realize that CPM's across the country were emphasizing a model of pastor that was really best described as "chaplain".

Add that realization to your numbers and I guess we as a denomination are getting good hospice care.

Chris said...

Actually, I find that kind of weird. Perhaps you are thinking about our introverted nature. However, I would lift up the observation that INTPs are notorious for being easy going until our principles are crossed. At that moment, we become tenaciously stubborn, almost intractable.

Now that I think about it, though, it really depends on one's principles. My principles dictate a firm adherence to Reformed Theology as articulated in the Westminster Standards and an unyielding catholic orthodoxy. It makes me a bit of a scrapper on things that some people have long since rated as adiaphorous. However, I'm less principally-driven on issues of inclusion (when they don't touch on cardinal doctrine, at least) and thus its harder to rile me in that direction.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

It was at that point that I began to realize that CPM's across the country were emphasizing a model of pastor that was really best described as "chaplain".

Hence why my CPM is requiring me to do 400 Hours of CPE before I can become a candidate.

Chris said...

I think that's part of the whole CPE mindset. The PC(USA) is dying a slow death. However, instead of seeking out radical surgeons to remove the cancer (through gospel preaching and discipline), she's turned to CPMs and said "Give us chaplains to hold our hands and tell us it's okay while the night closes in."

I want to be part of God's answer for reviving and reforming the PC(USA). But I will not be one of those who just says "there there...everything is okay."