Sunday, February 14, 2010

Beyond Rebuilding 5

John L. Williams contributed the last essay in Beyond Rebuilding, a volume of essays in response to my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment. He entitles his response "Thought Provoking, But Insufficient." He agrees with much of what I say, but differs on a couple of points. I feel the same way about Rev. Williams' analysis.

Rev. Williams notes that my critique and proposal is mostly about rebuilding the polity of the church, and does not deal sufficiently with the church's culture and theology. This is largely true. The one crucial area of culture that I deal with is our culture of undermining authority within the church. That is specifically what I am trying to change. Williams rightly notes that the whole world has changed when it comes to authority since the 1960s. This is true. But it is also true that the organizations that have grown and prospered since then have rebuilt their authoritative leadership on a more inclusive basis. The organizations that only dismantled the old structures of authority, without building a new culture of authority, are floundering.

On theology, I think my experience of how the church works is different from Rev. Williams'. I contend that the church's official confession is meant to be the authoritative working summary of the church's theology. As I look at how the church actually employs its many confessions these days, I don't see that. The confessions are quoted when convenient, and ignored otherwise. All the struggles in the church that have consequences are over the rules of order, not the confessions. I do not believe this attitude toward the confessions are simply "a few well-publicized cases" of defiance, but a widespread view that the confessions are for individual guidance, but have no institutional authority.

Rev. Williams, a former synod executive, rightly says that I "would have considered me [Williams] part of the PC (USA)'s Establishment." Not just would have, but do now. Rev. Williams is still part of the Presbyterian Establishment, and has both the experience and, I think, the duty, to lead. Thus, when he writes

What then will propel us forward? I believe it will require a yet-to-be-defined combination of theological restatement for our time, deep contextual analysis, clarity of purpose, shared vision, courageous leadership, and attention to congregational worship, nurture, and spiritual formation, remembering always that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and head of the church.
I say yes, DO IT. Leaders lead. Members of the Establishment earn their authority by making that restatement, doing that analysis, courageously leading - not by pushing it off on others.

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