#MN2011 – Into the unknown

I will shortly leave to travel to Minneapolis for a meeting of the Fellowship of Presbyterians. In many ways I feel like I’m taking a journey into the unknown. Of course, every day is a journey into the unknown, but most of the time we like to convince ourselves that we known what’s going to happen and when.

The Fellowship is asking the question: is there a new way forward for the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

The backdrop to that question is our recent history of theological infighting and precipitous decline. My sense is that the Fellowship isn’t simply a reaction to the latest round of Constitutional amendments and PJC cases, but is a response to bigger and more profound changes in church and society.

I can’t speak for any other conference attendees, but I for one am not at all sure what I hope the outcome of this meeting will be, at least in institutional terms.

Some enter the meetings with the urgent desire for the formation of a new reformed body. There’s a lot that’s appealing about this, but I’m not quite sold on it yet. Others want theological presbyteries, a way of protecting our evangelical convictions while remaining part of the church. There’s a lot that’s appealing about this too, but do we lose something? Do we bracket ourselves out of the denomination?

An option that is consistently appealing to me is that the Fellowship become a missional order within the church — a community of churches committed to incarnational mission in the neighborhoods to which God has given us and connected to like-minded churches across North America and the globe.

In many ways, this is basically a continuation of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship, a group of conservative/evangelical churches committed to transforming mainline churches into missional kingdom communities.

This seems a way to model authentic, historically-rooted orthodoxy in the midst of a denomination that is mixed — comprised of folk from a wide spectrum of theological perspectives some of which are not at all orthodox.

Here’s why I like this option:

  • Its focus here is on mission rather than separation.
  • Its congregation-focused — congregations are the centers and focus of mission.
  • Its not a “political” solution — it’s possible to win a political victory and lose the battle.
  • It answers a pressing need — responding to post-Christendom society.
  • Its connected with the global church.
There are some weaknesses:
  • This offers no protections for the consciences of individual teaching elders and churches who do not wish to participate in the ordination of GLBT persons to office.
  • It provides for no direct influence on the structures of the church — are we giving up on being a redemptive influence?
The unknown is difficult, but what is unknown to me is known to God. There is great comfort that God is already present in tomorrow!