Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Presbyterian Schism Begins in Earnest

This week the New Wineskins Association of Churches met at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando to discuss leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Officially, they were lamenting how unfaithful the PC (USA) is, and the EPC was there to "stand with" the New Wineskins dissidents. But the main agenda was clear. In fact, it is clear that New Wineskins, which began as a conservative ginger group, has turned into the main vehicle of the schism. The leaders of New Wineskins and the EPC have been talking about a merger since at least the 2006 General Assembly, which adopted the Peace, Unity, and Purity report.

151 congregations have signed on to the New Wineskins essential tenets. 130 of them sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. The EPC has 182 congregations with 75, 000 members. This compares to the 11,000 congregations and over 2 million members of the PC (USA). The EPC appeals to dissidents in the mainline denomination more than the larger Presbyterian Church of America does because the EPC will (in theory) ordain women, while the PCA will not.

New Wineskins has sensibly not insisted that its member churches leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), nor that they join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Instead, co-moderator Dean Weaver proposed two "faithful options": leave the denomination for a better one, or stay in place as a dissident congregation (which is what they are doing now).

The EPC, for its part, has made a sensible proposal as well. They invite any New Wineskins congregations, as well as other dissident congregations not part of New Wineskins, to form a non-geographical New Wineskins Presbytery for a five-year transitional period.

I don't think all the New Wineskins churches will leave the PC (USA), nor even all the congregations that sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. Still, if even half of them join the EPC, they will make the latter denomination half again larger. And the New Wineskins leaders will go from marginalized dissidents in the old church, to instantly prominent leaders of the new.

I am distressed that the New Wineskins folks are trying to leave already. They feared that bad things might happen as a result of the PUP report. I, too, am waiting to see if the "local application" of the church's essential tenets really will degenerate into "local option," as some conservatives fear – but it hasn't happened yet. I remain hopeful that by returning to the traditional Presbyterian standards of the Adopting Act of 1729 we will, instead, turn back some of the politically correct excesses that beset the church from the other side. In any case, though, I think we should all work for a good outcome, and wait to see what it really is.

It is probably inevitable that some of the New Wineskins churches will leave. I think that if the overwhelming majority of a congregation want to go, the Presbyterian Church (USA) should let them, and wish them godspeed. The congregation should buy their building for a reasonable amount. The PC(USA) will most likely be losing a good location, and should suck it up. If the big church is reasonable with dissidents, there will be fewer of them. I don't want them to go, but I don't want the denomination to be a dog in the manger, either.

17 comments:

Mark Smith said...

Would you like to try that last sentence again?

Gruntled said...

Eeps! Thanks, fixed it.

Alex said...

I guess my question is this: do they *want* to go, or do they feel they *need* to go?

Gruntled said...

I don't think anyone wants to go, but some want to be gone.

There have always been some congregations that are mad at the denomination. I think there always will be. The question for me is, why do some of them leave at any given moment? What is the trigger?

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks for your analysis of the overall situation. I am disturbed by this potential for schism, but I am just as disturbed by the decidedly non-pastoral response of many in the PC(USA) when it comes to dealing with disaffected fellow Christians.

In answer to your "what is the trigger" query -- in my experience the "last straw" tends to be what many consider a trivial issue -- or at least one which under normal circumstances would not trigger a move for the exits.

Gruntled said...

I am coming to think that many of the New Wineskins people have been reading to leave for the last few years, and were waiting for the PUP report outcome to give them a reason NOT to.

Alex said...

Question -- where can I find a list of the PCUSA congregations who haved joined the New Wineskins? I've heard numbers from 100 - 150 congregations have joined, but I can't seem to see who exactly. Any ideas?

Gruntled said...

It is interesting that the list is not readily available. I have put in some inquiries -- I will see what I can find out.

Gruntled said...

From a reliable source:

"the delegates voted on Friday to have the names listed on the NWAC Web site. It may not be
there yet, though. The 151 came from NWAC leadership during the meeting."

Alex said...

Yeah, I saw that in the online version of the Layman. You'd think they would be eager to share this list with the public and the media (snicker...)

What happens with thos congregations that ultimately decide not to leave the PCUSA?

Gruntled said...

Before the Assembly there was an online discussion of a "New PCUS." They were more openly schismatic than New Wineskins was at the time. Even their leaders did not use their own names or real links.

I think posting the New Wineskins names now is a form of brinksmanship, to force the waverers to join the exodus. This is the time for maximum graciousness from Louisville.

Alex said...

I don't think Louisville should post the names. I think the New Wineskins should post the names. I wonder how many congregational members in those 130+ churches actually understand what it will mean to leave the PCUSA.

IMHO, Cliff Kirkpatrick continues to respond with his usual grace and good humor. He is an admirable presbyter.

Gruntled said...

I am sorry, my last reply was ambiguous. Yes, I agree with you that New Wineskins, not Louisville, should post the names. I meant that Louisville should be gracious in response, both to encourage all of them to stay, and to not be jerks about letting them go if they are determined to.

Joel in Atlanta said...

A question: did the Adopting Act of 1729 really work the first time? After all there was a split/division/schism in the 1740s (Old Side vs. Nw Side). There was a split in the early 1800s when the Cumberlands were formed. And there was a split in the 1830s with the Old School vs. New School. Various issues were involved each time. Yet each of these also involved the ordination process: how much education was enough? and what kind of education was necessary?

A case could be made that the ordination of women played into the fundamentalists-modernists debates of the 1920-30s and the 1970s-80s. Certainly with the PCA women's ordination was a very hot button issue.

I think Gruntled has been on target all along - the standards have not changed. But other folks really do believe they have. And if you believe something long enough and strongly enough does it make it so? I'll leave it to the philosophers. And what would it take to say that the Adopting Act worked - the first time around or now?

Gruntled said...

The Adopting Act did work the first time - in the creation of the Synod in 1729. It was not enough to prevent the three splits you mention, nor the Orthodox Presbyterian schism in the 1930s, or the PCA schism in the 1970s. However, each successful reunion has readopted the Adopting Act, and after the first three splits.

Joel in Atlanta said...

It sounds as if you're saying division is part of our Presbyterian DNA - or as a mentor of mine said - where there are 2 Presbyterians there are at least 3 opinions. Maybe we should paraphrase T. Jefferson - a little schism now and then is a good thing? :-)

So often when we want something to "work" we want it to resolve things in our own interest. Doesn't seem that is the pattern then or now.

Gruntled said...

I think schism is based on the illusion that the new body will be pure, but it never is. The church has always been diverse, and it always will be.