Monday, June 23, 2008

Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment

On this slow day of the GA, let me introduce my latest contribution to building up the Presbyterian Church. My pamphlet, Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment, has just been published by the Re-Forming Ministry project of the church. You can download the pamphlet here, or order a hardcopy (with a nice, stained-glass cover) from the same site. There is also a Facebook group to sponsor discussion of the pamphlet here.

In a nutshell, I think that the Presbyterian Church used to have an establishment of leading pastors and elders who we honored and trusted. This was a great asset in times of conflict. The Special Commission of 1925 was such an establishment group. The church turned to them to settle the fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the 1920s. However, in "the Sixties," we deliberately unmade our establishment in the church, as in society at large, and made structural changes to prevent a new establishment from arising. And now when we need one, we don't have one.

I expect that most of the people most interested in my analysis are tied up with the General Assembly now. I had thought that the discussion of the Presbyterian Establishment idea will begin in earnest after the dust settles from the GA.

I was gratified to see, though, that there are two commissioner's resolutions that seem to promote two structural changes I also support. One would grant presbytery staff advisory vote. This has been referred to committee. Another would phase out the advisory committees. This one was declined. Still, I believe in incremental change, and these proposals seem a step in the right direction.


Jon said...

Having just read it through, I think the proposal will go over well with everyone except for women, minorities, those who are young or middle aged, presbytery staff, and folks from small or medium churches!

I do think we need to create more relational "establishments" within the church. I'm not sure an idealized model from the Civil War, the 1920s, or the 1950s will fit the bill. I am very grateful to those who are trying, however, and I hope this generates some good conversation. It does seem to be that the vast majority of the 100-200 folk who show up to my local presbytery meeting would probably bristle at this particular way of organizing things. I'd suggest trying this out at several presbytery meetings and seeing what folk say.

Gruntled said...

That is a good way of putting who might be put out. :-)

I am not really looking back for a model of a functioning denomination. I am trying to generate the principles of denominational authority from the nature of the denomination.

Ed McLeod said...

While he didn't use the language of Presbyterian Establishment, more than 25 years ago Dr. John Leith lamented the fact that the most capable leaders in the Presbyterian Church were being left off of committees and pushed out of the decision making structures of the church. Because of this, he was pessimistic about the future of a church he loved.

I appreciate your willingness to articulate this issue and to risk the inevitable backlash in an attempt to start an important conversation.