Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Reformed Body - Polity Statement

Occasionally on a Sunday I write about a painfully specific Presbyterian Church (USA) topic. If this is not your cup of tea, xkcd is always good.

The Fellowship of Presbyterians is proposing a New Reformed Body.  At this point they are navigating between the Charybdis of creating a counter-polity within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Scylla of outright schism.  This week they released draft documents on polity and theology for comment, prior to next month's national meeting to Take the Next Step, whatever that might turn out to be.  Today I will talk about the polity document.

The document looks to me like a very good constitutional framework for a Reformed denomination. They dissolve regional synods, a move that I favor.  They strengthen the collegial accountability of the presbytery, which I think is an excellent professional and pastoral idea.  They put congregations, rather than presbyteries, in charge of their property.  This is a giant step toward congregationalism, but in practice would not be very different from what we are devolving into now.

The document is deliberately lean, leaving to each presbytery and congregation the responsibility for adopting the normal rules recommend in this polity document, and/or developing their own.

My favorite innovation is this:

The session shall evaluate the congregation’s ministry and mission annually and report to the presbytery for reasons of mutual accountability and the sharing of best practices.

This sounds like an excellent idea for any congregation.  If congregations really did this seriously then the presbytery would, of necessity, develop knowledge and skill in sharing and assessing best practices.  That would be a huge benefit to the whole denomination.

What really makes a denomination work are not the official rules, but trust among the members and constituent congregations, and respect for the authority of established leaders. If the New Reformed Body can achieve that kind of trust and respect, it will succeed no matter what its official relationship to the PC (USA).


2 comments:

Tod Bolsinger said...

Beau,
You wrote, "What really makes a denomination work are not the official rules, but trust among the members and constituent congregations, and respect for the authority of established leaders."

This is exactly what we are finding in our work with the Mid-Council Commission (Formerly MGB Commission. This is far beyond structural issues, but is often expressed in structural conversations because we don't really know any other way to get at this.

Thanks for raising this, Beau. It can't be said enough.

gruntled said...

The second clause - respect for the authority of established leaders - was the main point I was trying to make in "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment." It was also the main thing in that pamphlet that the left wing of the church rejected the most.