We live in a world where we are rapidly depleting needed resources. We live at a time in our nation where more significant changes are being proposed than have been since FDR’s New Deal (albeit in a very different direction). We also live at a time when our society needs an engaged, educated, and prophetic Christian witness as never before coming from churches which need to produce engaged members, deacons, elders, and ministers for this generation. What a venue for ministry. If there ever was a time to be a Christian in our culture, this is it!
And yet, for almost the entire length of my ministry (since 1994) the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s statements, sermons, mission, and actions have almost been totally muted by internal church wrangling over issues of sexuality, church property, and our understanding of how Scripture is to be interpreted and understood. And so now, in 2011, if the Presbyterian Church gets any type of press or witness, it revolves around us fighting with each other. And incredible time and resources and effort have been and are being spent by many currently planning how to further divide our denomination. Apparently these parties feel they can’t continue on as PC(USA) Presbyterians if they are to keep integrity with their Christian beliefs.
What if we took a radically different approach? What if the Presbyterian Church (USA) declared at our next General Assembly that it had no congregations, no ministers, no elders,no deacons, and no members? And then, if any congregation, minister, elder, deacon, or member wanted to be in the Presbyterian Church (USA), they would have request to join all over again. On top of this, we would do this again once every twenty years to regularly voice witness that everyone who was a part of the branch of Christ’s Church that calls itself PC(USA) would be those who believed that is where they should be.
Would we get smaller? Sure. Would we have lots of congregations, ministers, elders, and members leave? Absolutely. Would we have tons of questions arise regarding pensions and benefits and property? Sure. But if we are gracious, they are all resolvable.
Imagine what the new Presbyterian Church (USA) would be like. Imagine the witness we’d be giving to the Church universal and the world! Every single person who was associated with our denomination would be there by choice (dare we say calling?). We could again focus on Christ’s call to us in this pivotal age. We could again focus on being the prophetic witness Christ calls us to be. And we could stop once and for all the incessant in fighting. And all those who feel they can’t, with integrity, be a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) could go find a place of their own.
It might just be a dream. And yet, what a different church we could be for Jesus Christ, what a different atmosphere it would create, and even what a different view it would create in our pews where we would once again (and maybe even more than ever before) be united, connectional, and focused on following our Lord with all the resources he has gifted us with.
It is just one of many ideas currently being thrown into the mix. A radical one to be sure. But it could be a choice that would make all the difference.
Tom Paine, Pastor
Minister of Word and Sacrament
Parkway Presbyterian Church (USA)