A few weeks ago I wrote about my deep ambivalence regarding the current PC(USA) debate about non-geographic presbyteries. After the recent meeting of the Mid Councils Commission, I’m still ambivalent. But I am definitely leaning more and more toward giving this idea a chance.
I’m sympathetic to the concept, primarily suggested by more conservative members of our denomination, because I understand both the missional and theological frustrations that are prompting it. Some congregations feel that their presbytery is not providing sufficient support for the mission they feel called to do. Others feel that the PC(USA) has made grave theological errors. They want to stay in the denomination, but are looking for relief of conscience.
At the same time that I appreciate these frustrations, I’m dubious about non-geographic presbyteries because I value diversity. And there is no way to deny that in some cases—perhaps many or all cases—non-geographic presbyteries will result in a significant loss of diversity.
But, I’m becoming more and more convinced that in today’s church we cannot regulate diversity. We must find new ways of being church together.
I think we are groping for a new kind of Protestantism. The old version of recognized that we each have the right, and responsibility, to discern the will of God and express that discernment in our theology and church practice. Yet this resulted in countless denominations that each regulated a single way. That’s not diversity—that’s imposed unity. And under this system, if you find yourself at odds with your denomination, you join another one, or create a new one altogether. Where does that get us? There must be a better way.
The question for us now is this: how can we develop a single denomination that allows for a true diversity of belief and practice?
I fully believe that one of the church’s witnesses to the world should be how diverse people can live together with a common purpose. But the model of doing that through votes and regulation isn’t working. What we are currently witnessing to the world is an exact reflection of the world’s polarized strife. We need to do something different.
There is not one shred of evidence that what we have been doing for decades (centuries?) is working today. To the contrary, if the numbers tell us anything, our way of being Presbyterian is slowly killing the church.
It occurs to me that we don’t regulate or assume that congregations will be diverse. If we are honest, we must admit that in today’s world, when geography is no longer a limiting factor, congregations are essentially affinity based. People go to whatever church they want to, not the one closest to where they live.
If our congregations are not really diverse, we seem to expect diversity at the presbytery level. But why should presbyteries be different from congregations? Why not expect and foster diversity at a “higher” level like the General Assembly? If we were to have a bunch of affinity based presbyteries, functioning well as supporters of missional congregations, coexisting together within the wider denomination, isn’t that a balance of unity and diversity?
I am an adult convert to Presbyterianism—you know, the kind the church needs in order to survive. I came to this church because something about Reformed theology spoke to me.
None of the conflict and division that characterizes our church is what I signed up for.
I’ve only been a part of two PC(USA) congregations. I love those churches because of their local mission and witness. Like most young adults, I’m not invested in this because of brand allegiance to Presbyterianism.
I honestly don’t get the fear of losing what the church currently is, because a lot of what we have isn’t working.
It may be time to try something different like non-geographic presbyteries. I don’t think that doing so would kill the church. Again, if the numbers tell us anything, the church is already dying.
Will non-geographic presbyteries lead to more division? Can we get more divided than we already are?
Perhaps if we turn down the heat of our conflicts and focus on our mission in the world, we’ll figure out new ways being together in all of our diversity.
I’m putting this out there because I’m honestly trying to figure this out. If you are a Presbyterian and have some thoughts on the points I’ve raised in this post, please let me know what you think.
Latest posts by John W. Vest (see all)
- My New Year Resolution: the Joyful Feast - 12/31/2017
- Conciliation and Indignation - 12/13/2017
- Christians Who Endorse or Vote for Roy Moore are Idolatrous Heretics - 12/06/2017