When I share our vision statement for the new church with friends who aren’t familiar with the PC(USA), they’re struck by the words “submission and service” to the PC(USA) and the Church universal. In an otherwise missional-sounding statement, here’s this sudden note of denominationalism, something antithetical to the missional renewal of the Church. Denominationalism (defined as pledging one’s allegiance to a particular denomination rather than to the whole of the Body of Christ) is dying. This is good. Our denominations, however, are not dying – they are being reshaped. Last week I wrote a post on Presbymergent about a new paper the PC(USA)’s Office of Theology and Worship put out this month called “Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment.” A number of people have contributed great comments about the paper as well, so please go read them. Simply put, I think the paper reflects the denomination’s preoccupation with self-preservation and the striving for institutional power and social influence.
How can we get past the bureaucratic mindset of church as a manageable human institution and move towards church as a demonstration of God’s Kingdom (G-3.0200)? I am going into ministry in the PC(USA) because I want to be a part what God’s doing to reshape it into something new. My dream is to see the PC(USA) be reshaped into something that better reflects the Kingdom: contagious, passionate, relational, just, loving, self-sacrificing, at times subversive, and above-all committed to the lordship of Christ alone. Greg Boyd wrote in his book Myth of a Christian Nation about God’s Kingdom being one that exercises power under rather than power over. For the church to exercise power under people or society is to spend itself in service and mission, trusting God for its sustenance, vision, and future. And that may even mean that institutions in their current forms have to die before there can be resurrection.
The funny thing is, our Book of Order even reflects this vision. “The church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the Gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ” (G-3.0400). What if we actually believed this? Would we trust in God more than in our endowments? Would we make decisions through prayer and discernment rather than politicized debate?
When I think of how our new church will hopefully participate in the denomination, I pray that it will do so as a voice that exercises power under rather than power over, as a witness that points to the priority of mission over self-preservation. And I pray that as other creative new ministries across the country choose to participate in the PC(USA) – rather than to abdicate responsibility to their denomination – that we will be reshaped into a truer demonstration of God’s coming Kingdom.