As we have been looking at going through a major structural reorganization, and as I have been serving on the Form of Government Task Force to re-write the Book of Order with a missional perspective, one of the main complaints I hear from people is, "But you can't do that. That's not Presbyterian!"
The question begs to be asked, "What in the world does it mean to be Presbyterian?"
Here are some possible answers.
To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of a denomination that has been steadily losing members and influence since 1960. We have not had a single positive gain in membership year in close to 50 years!
To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of the Presbytery where the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has gone from 2.5 million people to 6.5 million from 1995-2007, and in that same time frame, the 187 churches of Grace Presbytery managed to shut down five churches and lose a combined total of +10,000 members.
To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of a denomination where 92% are white. Where we live in one of the most Hispanic areas of the country, and out of the 183 churches in Grace Presbytery, we can only show 3 Spanish speaking congregations with a total combined membership of under 300.
To be a Presbyterian means that regardless of the situation and context, we will call pastors the same way, do session meetings the same way, and run the church the same way. It doesn't matter if you are a 5,000 member church in a huge city or a 20 member church out in the middle of nowhere. The Book of Order says, this is the way we do church.
Most of the people who complain at the new things being attempted, "But that's not Presbyterian," have no clue what it means to be Presbyterian. Most have never darkened the pages of the Book of Order, let alone have read through it and studied it. How many Presbyterians do you think have actually read and studied the Book of Order they supposedly love so much?
And when people say, "But that's not Presbyterian," what most people do not realize is that the Presbyterian they are referring to only applies to the last 30-40 years. If you were to look at a Book of Order from pre-World War 2 days, it would fit nicely in a shirt pocket. But since that time, and particularly since the late 1960's Presbyterians have begun adding manual and procedural items to the Book of Order. And the Constitutional nature of the book was transformed into a manual book of operation and a code book for how to do church. And when people say, "But that's not Presbyterian," it is only referring to the last forty years of the church.
Calvin and our fore-fathers are rolling in their graves to see the church they established becoming an irrelevant relic. The main thing is to growing new Christians and growing faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And if the church is not doing that, then who cares what the structure is? It's failing on its main thing.
Our heritage is to be missional church, a mission focused church, a church that is making a difference. That's the main thing.
The missional focus of the polity and the reorganization is so in tune with our historical imperative and the constitutional nature of the Book of Order. It's the pharisaic additions and bloating down the church with regulations that's killing the church. That is what is not presbyterian!