A Very Different Approach

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.

In Christ,

Tom Paine, Pastor

Minister of Word and Sacrament

Parkway Presbyterian Church (USA)


2 thoughts on “A Very Different Approach

  1. Sounds like it would be a re-establishment of the denomination; a reaffirmation of the concepts that identify a church as PC(USA).

    I must admit, I personally have had a hard time finding a particular church to become a ‘member’ at because the whole denomination concept for Christ’s church presents its own set of concerns. Even the early church fathers had concerns that divided them. For me, for instance, I have been attending a couple of different Presbyterian churches as of late because I appreciate their educated and open-minded approach to studying the Bible and understanding how God works in our lives today. There are many other reasons as well, but I want to touch on the denomination issue. I have spent a good deal of time reading about different denominations’ views on God, the Bible, and the issues the church faces today…and I always find something that doesn’t sit well with me with, and decide I can’t be a member of that church denomination. I have taken this approach for several years now, but it has kept me from getting rooted with a church or congregation.

    What makes a denomination a denomination? Do the members have to agree on all issues? Do they have to split into other churches or denominations if particular “key” members of the church do not agree on something? This is my concern with denominations, and I feel like your post is highlighting this problem in a way.

    In my recent church attendance with Presbyterian churches I have been taking a different approach where I have purposefully not read much about its views on God, the Bible, etc. and have instead focused on just showing up at church and seeing how it goes, listening to the ministers, the people, and what they all say about God and how they worship him, and serve him. I am trying to let that speak for itself…I’m thinking maybe this time…maybe this method will prove useful in getting me to accept being in a particular denomination. Instead of focusing on what bothers me, I’m trying to find what unites me with these people, and just getting on to what really matters.

    I hope the PC(USA) as an organization could be a church that focuses on connecting people with the Creator, serving the ‘least of these’, and accepts that its members have some differing viewpoints…and that it can still function this way. I hope a church like this may exist, and that there may a church that my family and I will call home.

    1. Hello my friend. In regard to postings in general, I am glad you are bold enough to post on the reply board. But most folks who read my blog email me the response. I guess they don’t want to put their response out there for public consumption but all the thoughts I find of value. Regarding this post, I got six people agreeing, one dissenting, but about forty who didn’t respond. My guess is my idea is a bit too radical for most folks.

      I think denominations have served a purpose. I find them to reach different types of God’s people in different life situations. None are better or more Christian than another. We are all different parts of the same body.

      But, as the post reflects, I think denominations are now denominations more out of history and tradition than they are about having a cohesive theology. If we all stood up and affirmed that we believed like things about God all over again, I would see great power in that. What do numbers mean if the people within those numbers believe very different things?

      I am glad you are checking out the Presbyterian Church. I have met some most interesting people with thoughts I had never considered before in it. But I also appreciate your honest approach of evaluating it by what Presbyterians do as much as what they say. I’ll be interested to see what you choose in the long term.

      Hope your week goes well. Will reply to your other comments later today.

      All the best,


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