Monday, February 13, 2012

Isolationism doesn't work in a Presbyterian Church

Any Presbyterian church, by definition, is a connectional church. The word Presbyterian refers to the polity, or form of government by which churches subscribe which consists of elders, or presbuteros. As Michael Jinkins says "The New Testament understands the church as a spiritually organic reality. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples is not just that between a charismatic leader and his followers or a gifted teacher and his students, but is (according to John’s Gospel) like that between a vine and its branches and (according to Paul) like that between a human body and its head." So the PC(USA) as a presbyterian church has sessions that rule local churches, made up of both teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders. Representatives from sessions are sent to local governing bodies called presbyteries, and representatives from presbyteries are sent to the highest governing body called the General Assembly. We are deeply connected. The map above shows that the PC(USA) is a nationally connected church.

As the PC(USA) even says on its own website under "Who are we?" Presbyterian 101 - "The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is distinctly a confessional and a connectional church, distinguished by the representation of elders — laymen and laywomen — in its government... We do mission and its related functions in “good Presbyterian order” through the structures of our General Assembly, synods, presbyteries and local churches, which provide accountability in a connectional system."

That's why it's incredible to me when local presbyteries or churches try to make a case that they can remain independent and separate despite General Assembly decisions. We talk so highly about our connectional system and its accountability when we are in agreement. Lately, in light of controversial decisions of the connectional denominational decisions, some have tried to argue that they can have their own standards, their own "rules", their own interpretations that goes against the General Assembly rulings and interpretations. These aspirations, while noble, are just that and completely fly in the face of our connectional system.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:15-16: "If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body." I would also say, that if a hand disagrees with the head, that doesn't make it any less part of the body. We need to come to grips with the decisions that our denomination as a whole has made rather than denying the reality of our Presbyterian system. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the body brings the "hold outs" into line.

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