The Aftermath of PUP

After spending a few days pondering the precarious position of the denomination to which I belong, my mixed feelings about the passage of the PUP report have reached some resolution, though not necessarily a clear-cut one or one that you might expect. Let me explain.

First, I do not think PUP is as good as people want to spin it to be. Having read Edward Koster’s article from the Outlook on PUP’s passage, I’m not convinced that the action of the GA in any way strengthens the authority of the Book of Order. Koster seems to think that because the amended version of recommendation five allows for juridical review, everything’s ok: “Whether the examination and ordination and installation decision comply with the constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.” Koster might be right, if every PJC in the denomination was committed to upholding the Book of Order as it stands including G-6.0106b. The simple fact is that they aren’t. Look at the recent acquittals of William Parr and Jane Spar, who both performed wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, but were declared by committees in their presbyteries not to have contradicted the denomination’s constitution. Simply making decisions “subject to review by higher governing authorities” does nothing to win the trust of people who have watched the governing authorities contradict their own constitution.

But (secondly), I do not think PUP is as bad as people want to spin it to be. Given that we live in a post-denominational society, where very very few people actually choose a church solely because of its denominational affiliation, the approval of recommendation five does seem to allow an appropriate decrease in institutional power. Yes, it gives leeway to practices contradicting Scripture, but in so doing, it lays groundwork for the deconstruction of the national institution of the PC(USA). As Kruse Kronicle has diligently noted from the inside of the GAC, they are downsizing in recognition of the PC(USA)’s no-longer-privileged status in America. I would say that the institution of the denomination as we have known it is honestly in hospice, and rightfully should be if Presbyterians want to effectively work for Christ within American society. Presbyterian history, tradition, polity, and theology are all worth preserving, but can be done so without the bureaucracy that the national institution has become. People throughout the denomination realize this, but few are putting it into practice. The up-side of PUP, and the only positive spin I will put on its passage right now, is that it sets in motion significant changes in what we think a denomination is, and that very concept is in need of rethinking.

Though my obsession with Presbyterian politics for the past two weeks may not indicate this, I would like to identify myself more with the emergent church movement in terms of missiology and ecclesiology. Though it may sound strange, I think that PUP’s passage is forcing us to redefine our denomination in ways that favor a shift toward emergent styles of church leadership. Fellow Presbyterians and emergent church friends – do you think there is any truth in this?

  1. Anonymous said:

    My thoughts – I left the PC USA after 35 yrs this week. That’s all I have to say about that.

  2. tim said:

    As a Commisioneer to the Denver GA and I attended the GA in Columbus and Richmond I read your comments and find them very well thought out. I agree 100% with your statement of “Koster might be right, if every PJC in the denomination was committed to upholding the Book of Order as it stands including G-6.0106b. The simple fact is that they aren’t.” I can tell you from the talks I had at meals with others while at GA that there was no real thought of “Peace and Unity” just tactical discussions on how to craft a resolution that could pass. Failing that they found a way to end around the “rules” Unfortunitly, as James might say, we are seeing the fruit of their labor. As you put it a “deconstruction of the national institution of the PC(USA).” God could care less if we survive as a denomination and become a foot note in somebody’s history class, He will work though whom he choses and they will thrive and not die a shrivel on the vine.

  3. John said:

    I think denominations will soon become loose networks of churches who have similar mission and maybe similar ecclesiology. Ecclesiastical structures will hopefully be more locally based while broad missional approaches will connect churches all over the world. The emerging church is just this, a loose network of churches with similar missiology. We’ve seen in seminary that even our professors are not tied only to the Reformed Presbyterian way, instead they and the Emerging church have a “generous orthodoxy,” another characteristic that I think the future church must embrace. This will allow for great diversity and also great “peace and unity.” Hopefully purity will fit in there too, though it might look a little different in different contexts.

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