Jul 3, 2012

Living into a Post-Denominational Reality - A New Denominational Paradigm

Bill Teague, asks a fantastic question: "What might evangelical participation in a post-constitutional, post-biblical, post-denominational association look like?"

That is one of the most important questions facing the PC(USA) today.

The connectional church as we have known it is hanging by a thread.

As we continue to move into a post-denominational world, we need new paradigms in how we can understand our relationship to denomination.

The way we have traditionally understood our relationship is as follows.

  • First, our ultimate commitment is to Jesus Christ
  • Secondarily, that ultimate commitment to Jesus Christ is expressed primarily in our denominational connections.
  • Lastly, local churches and members are members live out their commitment to Jesus Christ through these congregations of which they are a part of the larger denomination. 
In this paradigm, it is the denomination that sets priorities and policies based on particular confessions that denomination holds as essential. And it is because of our affiliation within that particular denomination that many people on either sides of issues become saddened and angry because the denomination does something contrary to what they believe as congregations and as individuals.

The question I would like to pose is what would things look like if we flipped the last two?
  • First, our ultimate commitment is to Jesus Christ
  • Secondly, we live out our ultimate commitment to Christ by primarily living out the mission of Jesus Christ through a local congregation
  • Lastly, within local congregations there may be more than one denominational affiliation such that there could be, as an example, a joint witness of PC(USA) and ECO in the same church.
The way we live as Americans is helpful.

Just as there are Americans who democrats, republicans, and independents in the US, what would it be lik if we understood our living out the mission of Jesus Christ through the local church as our primary commitment (being American) before we are democrats, republicans, or independents (different presbyterian and reformed denomination expressions)? 

What if in our congregations, we made it possible for a joint witness of more than one denomination as long as they agreed to a reformed and presbyterian way of doing church?

The thing that will continue to hold presbyterians together is how we do church. 
  • There are elders, not bishops or popes. 
  • That we will continue to interpret the scriptures through the lens of the reformed theological perspective? 
The denominations would continue to do what they do: working on policies and positions on issues facing the life of the church. 

But the difference would be that in particular congregations, people's commitment to Jesus Christ would be lived out primarily through the local church, of which there could be multiple expressions of reformed presbyterian denominational affiliations?

Would love feedback.

1 comment:

dhollifield said...

I have been thinking about this a lot, James. On any given Sunday, the pews in our church are filled with people from other traditions and denominations (who attend this PCUSA congregation for lots of different reasons). What is the big difference about being an ECO church with some likeminded PCUSA attenders? Or vice-versa? It is one of the things that appeals to me about the Fellowship - the branding - the statement of who you are as a congregation (not necessarily a denomination). We are the only Reformed presence in our community - or for 2 hours in any direction - and that is a hardwired identity in a community where identities have bright lines. An evangelical association is more fluid and flexible than a denomination. Property is still the bugaboo though - as long as the Property Clause exists, this is a pie-in-the-sky conversation. Frankly, I think if they eliminated the Property Clause a lot of evangelical churches would stay (because it would eliminate the possibility of being "raided" by an angry presbytery.)