Thursday, July 27, 2006

If Not New Wineskins… Then What?

Is New Wineskins (NWAC) the answer for the PCUSA? Is NWAC an answer? What should happen in the PCUSA if NWAC isn’t the answer for the PCUSA and its congregations?

There are HUGE challenges facing the PCUSA: theological, directional, structural and membership challenges. These challenges are listed in their order of importance; but in reverse order as to how they appear on the surface. The continued catastrophic membership losses should be troubling for every Presbyterian! Yet, trying to halt these losses will ultimately fail if the other challenges are not tackled first.

Theological crisis: “Theology matters” has been a catchy slogan floating around the PCUSA for several years. The PCUSA claims that it is “Reformed,” but what does that mean? There are many pastors in the denomination that do not believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Would the reformers have allowed these pastors to be in the church? NO WAY! Why is there no list of essential theological beliefs if, indeed, theology matters? A pastor, in his church’s newsletter, confessed his dislike for the “blood” images around Jesus and forgiveness. Doesn’t Reformed theology say something about the substitutionary atonement? The words “theology matters” ring hollow in the PCUSA.

Directional crisis: The PCUSA is being pulled in numerous directions due to our lack of theological unity. This directional crisis is also caused by a lack of leadership. What do I mean by leadership? A biblical leader is one who is first, and foremost a follower. Leaders need to follow Jesus. Leaders need to sit at the feet of the Master and take on Christ’s beliefs, agenda and theology. Such an action allows Christ to point us in particular directions. I do not see this happening in the PCUSA.

Structural crisis: The PCUSA is locked in a 17th century structure while trying to live in a 21st century world. Think for a moment… how many “committee positions” are there in your Presbytery? Did you know that the next meeting of the General Assembly will have 200+ more delegates than this past Assembly. The PCUSA is hemorrhaging and all the denomination is doing is rearranging the chairs on a sinking ship. The structure needs to change.

Membership crisis: There is no end to this membership crisis in sight. Our denomination will lose people through death, spiritual apathy and departure. Let’s face the fact… we are in a “gray” denomination. Huge numbers of our members are OLD! The church I serve has a disproportionately high number of people over the age of 75, as does the PCUSA. The PCUSA will continue to lose large numbers of members through death. Spiritual apathy will account for some of the denomination’s membership losses. Our denomination doesn’t focus on Bible study, prayer, fasting, spiritual gifts, etc. People stop going to church because “church” isn’t high on their priority in their life. Apathy! The PCUSA will continue to lose people as they depart to other denominations/churches. This will happen at both ends of the theological spectrum. People are getting tired of the constant fighting within the denomination. Many in our midst are packing their bags and heading to different churches/denominations.

THE PCUSA IS IN CRISIS! I predict it will be business as usual. The Covenant Network will keep pushing to change ordination standards. The Coalition will keep gathering renewal groups together, yet providing no leadership solutions for the PCUSA. The Confessing Church Movement will keep their theological positions and complain about the direction of the denomination. The Constitutional Presbyterians will push for churches to actively enforce the Book of Order. The Presbyterian Global Fellowship sees the PCUSA as broken so their solution is to stay in the denomination and direct their giving to acceptable mission agencies around the world. Its business as usual in the PCUSA!

Now you know why the New Wineskins Association of Churches is so attractive to me. They have a biblical and reformed theology. There is direction. Their structure is truly a new paradigm. Their focus on the Great Commission demands that evangelism will be a high priority. My fear is that without the NWAC it will be the same-old, same-old stuff in the PCUSA. Will the last person out please turn out the lights!


At 2:45 PM , Anonymous landon said...

Help me reconcile the lof=gic of these two quotes:

"There are many pastors in the denomination that do not believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Would the reformers have allowed these pastors to be in the church? NO WAY!"

"The PCUSA is locked in a 17th century structure while trying to live in a 21st century world."

It seems to me that you are advocating that we retain a 17th century epistemology while trying to live in a 21st century world.

At 8:03 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

You ask a good question. My statement about pastors and the reformers has to do with theology. My statement concerning being stuck in the 17th century had to do with structures. These are two very different areas!

Theology has to do with our beliefs. As Christians our beliefs are given to us in scripture and do not change through time or culture. Our theological beliefs have to do with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin, redemption, sanctification, etc. How we organize to carry out the ministry and mission of Christ are our “structures.” Structures can change to maximize the effectiveness of the church’s ministry.

Let’s look at some examples. Following the ascension of Jesus the disciples were a loose knit, organic movement. They were guided by the “Apostles.” As the ministry expanded things had to change. A new structure was created—the deacons. Stephen and his group were instructed to oversee the distribution of food to the widows of Grecian Jews. The Apostles continued to preach and teach about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The theology stayed the same; the structure changed.

Example #2: Several years ago I was on our Presbytery’s Redevelopment Committee. Plateaued and declining churches could ask for our input on ways that they could re-energize their ministry. Members from our committee visited a certain church’s session several times. This church has a very large building. They were averaging about 30 people in worship. The Scout Troop that met in their building wanted to place a small bulletin board in on one of the hallways (not in the main hallway) to highlight what the troop was doing (the board would have been smaller than two feet by two feet). The building committee asked the session what they thought of the idea. For fifteen to twenty minutes they debated the pros and cons of the proposal. The committee was then instructed to go and measure the hallway and report back to session as to “exactly” where the bulletin board would be placed. The next month the committee reported back to session. Another long discussion took place about the bulletin board. It was finally approved and the committee was instructed to appoint a group of men to install the bulletin board. THIS EXAMPLE REALLY HAPPENED! Their “structure” was broken! Their structure needed to change.

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship is looking at starting a new missionary sending agency (separate from the denomination) because of the ineffectiveness of our structure.

These are great examples of the PCUSA “structure.” “Structures” can change; “theological beliefs” always stay the same.

At 11:14 AM , Anonymous landon said...

I'm fully aware that structures and theological rendering are two different things.

Of course theology has to do with beliefs. And those beliefs are built upon certain epistemologies...just as structures are.

Structures are systematic renderings of what we understand to be the best way to be in relationship that is consistent with our theological rendering which is also consistent with our epistemological vantagepoint.

What I'm driving at is that it is illogical (and, I believe, ultimately not helpful) to advocate for a structure from one epistemology (circa 21st c.) and a theological rendering from another (circa 17th c.).

Both should spring from the same foundation so pick one (21st or 17th) and go with it, but don't try to mix them and think that a strong case is being made.


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