imageThe second edition of the PC(USA) Mid Councils Commission is meeting this weekend in Dallas. Having served on the first (failed) attempt at this, I have a question I’d love to hear some Presbyterian perspectives on: Can the PC(USA) be reformed?

Here’s some background.

Yesterday I wrote a post in which I pondered whether the best and brightest in the PC(USA) are giving up on changing the system. At the same time, Tony Jones published a post in which he argued that Pope Francis will not reform the Roman Catholic Church because, like any massive institution, it cannot be changed. He once again pointed to what he calls “ironclad laws of modern bureaucracies”:

Moore’s Law: Large bureaucracies cannot possibly achieve their goals.
Parkinson’s Law: In a bureaucracies, work expands so as to fill the time available to complete it.
Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy: In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself.

So I wonder: Can the cumbersome and anachronistic bureaucracy of the PC(USA) really be reformed?

As I engaged this question on Twitter with Landon Whitsitt (who happens to be a member of MCC2), something finally dawned on me. The Reformation wasn’t really a reform. It was the birth of something entirely new. And if Phyllis Tickle and others are right that the cultural and religious shifts we are experiencing now are of the same order as the Reformation, which side of the current reformation do we want to be on—those who hang on to the status quo of the various mainline Protestant denominations (and maybe tweak them a bit) or those who forge a new way? Both can be faithful responses, but each presents quite different tasks and challenges, and it seems that each of us must choose one or the other.

So, fellow Presbyterians (and others): Do you think true reform is possible? Why or why not?

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. I left the PC(USA) ten years ago because of its concept of ordained ministry. In my opinion, in my case, the COM of the Presbytery acted as a secular union, rather than as a body of discerning Christians. To them, it was all about the money, not about the call. So no, I don’t think true reform is possible in the PC(USA). I am delighted, however, that there are people like you who try.

    I am now a member of a non-denominational, urban Christian church that experiences growing pains as it moves back and forth between evangelical and progressive. (Our retreat speaker, Peter Rollins, was a controversial choice.) We lose people, we gain people, but we rarely maintain the status quo. That is the blessing of being an independent congregation. It can also, sometimes, be a curse.

  2. I was disappointed that the MMC recommendations were not adopted at the last GA. As I heard people use the manta “save our synods”I had to ask “why?” I have been ordained for 15 years and I can count on one hand the times I have received some form of communication from my synod. They were helpful in getting us involved in missional church and I like our synod executive but I fail to see the purpose of another layer of church government.

  3. It “seems” the only way the pcusa changes is when the money gets tight. I think we will have to fall apart before we can change in any significant way. Sorry.

  4. I have always and often preached that the Reformation was a failure. It was a split. Now I am glad that it failed in that way. Likewise today, there are congregations that have gone progressive in various ways, ignoring or opposing the old orthodoxy. No presbytery is stopping them because they are too busy fighting off the atavistic right who are leaving. Since those guys are leaving, progressives need to claim the center! Let everyone talk about what the old beliefs mean, deny literalism, embrace world religions as legitimate, welcome gays, discover what Jesus was essentially about (not being God but being human), etc. Presbyteries need to be gatekeepers in one way only: don’t allow pastors to hurt churches or churches to hurt pastors. Remind people that if they don’t love each other or the world, they probably ought to be doing something else.


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