Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick Hit: AI about Dismissal

I have had a number of folks ask about the three-fold criteria governing dismissal in general from the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I have had little luck tracking down that little documentary gem, until today.  If you are hunting, enjoy it in its official form here.
For helpful reference, the citations of G-15.0203a, b are now re-written and found in similar form in G-5.05c.
As one might expect, Anderson and Bagby are resurrected again.  The actions of predecessor denominations has always seemed dubious to me regarding the actions of the current denominational iteration, but I will leave that to you to decide.
At any rate, this should be helpful for anyone who is considering the matter of criteria for dismissal from the presbytery's perspective.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Evaluating Other Denominations

     In our Deep Discernment process we have spent a lot of time and energy evaluating the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I am thankful for the many people who have joined in the process sharing prayers, thoughts and insights.
     Now, we are embarking on a new adventure in our Deep Discernment-that of choosing a new denominational home.  While we will continue to work with the Presbytery of Central Washington's discernment team to ensure that we have heard the Spirit's call rightly, we are preparing to make a move to a new denomination.  This is a major change in our mindset.
     Up to this point we have been investigating if we can continue to minister in, with and on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Now, having determined we cannot, we need to begin to describe a denomination in which we could do what we feel we currently cannot.  To accomplish this goal a Commission has been created that will begin to put together a list of Values (needs) and Criteria (wants and necessary requirements) with which to evaluate the denominational picture.
     This list (and the denominations under consideration) is currently very fluid, but if you would like a peek, you can see the list as it currently stands here.  We will continue to fill in the details of the list (and are thankful to others who have given us a head start with their own charts).

"The Folder"

     When we at First Presbyterian Church of Omak began our denominational discernment process (you can see an overview of our process here), we were overwhelmed at the task before us.  The commission created by the Session quickly settled on doing evidence-based discernment.  We would, whenever and however possible, choose to seek hard evidence for our decisions.  Little did we know that this course of action would create a large number of documents that, quite honestly, became unwieldy in practice.  Our hope is to make your and your congregation's discernment easier with this handy guide.
     I (Pastor Bill) have had a few requests, mostly from other pastors, to get a look at what has come to be known as "The Folder" of information concerning the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Oh, you don't know about that folder.  Well let me give you a visual.  The folder is, conservatively, 3 inches thick and contains dozens of documents.  I am somewhat perplexed to admit that I have read and/or reviewed everything in the folder.  No wonder I feel so tired all the time.
     What follows is an annotated list of documents in the folder that you can find with a simple click of the mouse.  Those who have requested a copy of the folder will, I hope, I understand given this list why we have been reluctant to send it out.  Frankly, it would just be too much time and work to do so.  So please use the following links to begin building a folder of your own.
  •  Category 1:  Presbyterian Panel Studies 
    • The Presbyterian Panel Studies are a set of statistical tools and analysis compiled by the PC(USA).  They are scientific surveys and have all the credentials one would need to make statistical determinations based on the data.  All of these studies are invaluable.  Unfortunately, not all of the studies are available online--though enough are to see some startling trends.
    • Of particular interest are the Background Reports.  Do not waste time with the summaries as these contain a lot of data interpretation.  What you are after are the appendices to the full reports where you can get a look at the real, hard data.  Be sure to look at the 2008, 2005, 1999 and 1997 reports.  A 2011 summary is also available, but it lacks the full report currently.  Similar to the Background Reports, in 2001 a U.S. Congregational Life Survey was conducted and contains similar information.  The real trouble with these surveys is that they do not always ask the same question in the same way which makes comparison and analysis difficult.
    • Also of interest are studies on:
      • Spirituality:  1994 is a report on Spirituality.  In 1997 it became a report Spirituality, Health and Well Being.  In 2007 (only available as a summary) it became Spirituality and Health.  In 2010 only a Health survey was done with no reference to Spirituality.
      • The Bible:  Several studies, including the Background Reports, touch on the place of the Bible in the current life of the PC(USA).  In addition to these, specific reports on the Bible were issued in 1995 and 2006.
      • Evangelism:  A specific study on evangelism was done in 1996.  After this, it seems that evangelism was folded into other studies conducted in 2005.
      • Current Issues:  One of my favorite survey topics was variously titled Current Issues or just Issues.  You can find such studies in 1996, 2004 and 2006.  
    • Other studies and surveys on the main page are interesting and worth a look, but these were the particular studies that were telling in our own study here at FPC Omak.
    • If you are not a statistics nut like me, perhaps our summary spreadsheet (with graphs) would be helpful.  You can download it here. There is so much more that could be said, but this is a nice little comparative summary based on the information.  What's even better is it is all legitimate statistical information and therefore unbiased.
  • Category 2:  General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission Decisions
  • Category 3:  The Sanctity of Human Life
    • Our congregation is unashamedly Pro-Life.  We have sought and received Relief of Conscience during my tenure as pastor (something we were surprised to find out we did not have previously!).  The PC(USA)'s stance on abortion has been trying for us to say the least.  For those interested in this stance, here are some documents.
    • The current position paper on abortion dates to 1994.  Of particular interest is paragraph e. under section E. Policy Development and subsection 1. Areas of Substantial Agreement on the Issue of Abortion.  The paragraph states:  "The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened."
    • This language is cited in the Board of Pensions coverage information regarding "Women's Health Protection" (p 24) in the "Guide to Your Healthcare Benefits 2012."  The brochure states, "Consistent with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s affirmation of the ability of a woman to make good moral choices regarding problem pregnancies, the Medical Plan reimburses medical costs for abortion procedures, subject to plan limits.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) further affirms that abortion should not be used as a method of birth control, for gender selection only, or solely to obtain fetal parts for transplantation."
    • A succinct history of the abortion issue in the PC(USA) is available in two parts (one and two) from Presbyterians Pro-Life.
  • Category 4:  Denial of the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ and creeping universalism
    • The 1972 Study of Universalism just about says it all.  The study left the door open to consider universalism as a possibility.  In other words, in an attempt to compromise the General Assembly, in adopting the paper, did nothing to answer the denomination's stance on universalism.
    • The current stance of the denomination is a tricky one to navigate as there are a number of contradictory statements out there.  The Office of Interfaith Relations has a list of documents up to help you find your way through.  Of these documents, the "Presbyterian Principles for Interfaith Dialogue" and "Witness and Evangelism Among People of Other Faiths" are the most enlightening.  Honestly, these documents (and the ones listed in the next bullet section) are a furthering of the Study of Universalism's approach--they are not shocking, but neither are they solidly founded on the Gospel.
    • In addition to these overarching articles, there are also several religion specific papers that may interest your committee.
    • A little more troubling was the return to the folks who brought you Re-Imagining with the 220th General Assembly's support of the Words Matter project.  This project tosses the Lordship of Jesus Christ back up into the air after the compromising Hope In the Lord Jesus Christ (another compromise document, see pg 11-12, lines 155-168) sought to alleviate in 2002. That paper was a response to the inability of the 213th General Assembly to affirm the sole Lordship of Jesus Christ (here is an article written in defense of the action of the 213th General Assembly).
    • In 2007, Linda Valentine (Executive Director, General Assembly Council) and Clifton Kirkpatrick (at the time the Stated Clerk of GA) addressed many of these concerns in a letter to the leaders of the New Wineskins.  The letter does refute many of the conclusions we drew as a commission, but not convincingly so.  In essence, in my opinion, it seems to say, "Settle down, everything is fine.  Just trust us."  The trouble is, we do not have that level of trust.
      • The letter concludes:  "The New Wineskins Association of Churches has raised questions about the faith and mission of the church that must be dealt with seriously. However, the confessional and constitutional theology and practice of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) cannot be fairly censured with the careless charge of “apostasy.” Neither can the whole church be held responsible for every departure from its standards voiced by individual ministers, elders, deacons, and members. Let us all strive to recover the original purpose of governing bodies as settings of mutual responsibility and accountability in which faithful discourse deepens the church’s beliefs and focuses the church’s mission."
      • This touches on  the issue of the failure of the 3rd mark of the true church (discipline) which could warrant a category all its own.
  • Category 5:  Israel
    • The PC(USA) has taken a somewhat to very anti-Israel/pro-Palestine bent in recent years.  The actions of the 220th General Assembly were a step back and then forward from this trend.
    • The 2010 "Breaking Down the Walls" approved by the 219th General Assembly is really a watershed document in understanding the denomination's official view of Israel.
  • Category 6:  Marriage, Ordination Standards and Homosexuality
    • The adoption of Amendment 10-A, removing the fidelity and chastity language from the Book of Order alone speaks volumes about the trajectory of the PC(USA) regarding issues of accommodating itself to cultural sexual morals.  Here is the official stance of the denomination in FAQ form.
    • Attempts to redefine marriage as between two persons instead of a man and a woman were very narrowly defeated (338-308) at the 220th General Assembly and further study being called for will assure that this issue is not going to be resolved anytime soon.  The PNS story on the issue is well done.
  • Category 7:  Advisory Opinions and Authoritative Interpretations
    • These are official opinions and a few are worth reading.  I am running low on energy so I will simply list them out by title here.
    • Authoritative Interpretations:  If you can find a list of these, please let me know as I have not yet found them.  I know there are 250 of them still on the books, but what they are is known only to the privileged few I guess.
    • For the real legal buffs out there, here is a list and links to Amicus Curiae Briefs the PC(USA) has filed.  To be honest, we did not read these, but you may find them helpful.
  • Category 8:  Historic Documents
    • In an earlier post I linked to several of these documents.  You can find it here.
    • In addition to these, the Swearingen Commission Report is also useful as it has set the trajectory for conflict management in the PC(USA) to date (i.e. avoid and when necessary do nothing).  The best I was ever able to find here was an excerpt, but here is an article regarding the report from one of my teachers at Princeton.
I suppose reports of various other congregations who have gone through this process could be appended to this long list of resources (and some of these are indeed part of our monstrous folder).  That being said, the items listed above should keep any commission humming along for quite some time.  For those interested, you can read our commission's final report here.  Please feel free to use any or all of this report in your own (as we borrowed from others who had gone before us with similar permission).
My intent here is not to create dissension in the congregation, but to properly inform the congregation and the Session.  After our evidence-based investigation of the PC(USA) we decided it was prudent and proper for us to seek dismissal.  I hope, gentle reader, that you will approach this process of deep discernment with prayer and study and be led by the Holy Spirit to the place God is calling you to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seeking Dismissal

As reported to you today in worship by Elder Richard Price the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Omak has chosen to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA).  The vote came at the conclusion of a process that began in February and was led admirably by the Denominational Investigative Commission (DIC).  The DIC read through many documents, led several community forums and learned much from a survey distributed to the membership.  All of these led the DIC to unanimously recommend the Session seek dismissal.  Session adopted the recommendation of the DIC.
The reasons for seeking dismissal boil down to our sense of call as a community of Christ's disciples.  We are called first and foremost to be followers of Jesus Christ as he is revealed in Scripture.  If we are given to choose between following Christ and our denomination, then our choice is clear.  The Session, in their action, has made the choice that for us to follow Jesus, we will seek to affiliate elsewhere.  The Session believes that for us as a congregation to continue to follow Christ, we need to do so in a different denomination.  Our hope is to become involved in a denomination that is not marked with the same intractable conflict over the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Scriptures and the understanding of biblical ethics, especially sexual morality.
Overall, this process has been marked with high emotions.  Some have been angry and expressed a sense of betrayal.  Greater than anger, however, has been a sense of sadness.  Personally, as your pastor, I am saddened that we have had to come to this decision in our life together, yet I am also hopeful.  I have long thought of this dismissal process as a sort of get over it so we can get on with it project.  We need to get over the emotional issues and conflicts that seem to dishearten us in our mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and get on with the work of evangelism and discipleship.
The road ahead will mean two separate process occurring simultaneously.  First, a commission was created to work with the Presbytery's dismissal process.  You can read first hand the steps our Presbytery has set forward for congregations here.  Our hope is that in moving forward, though this process will be marked with sadness and loss on both sides, that our witness for Christ will speak loudest.
Second, a separate commission has been created to begin working on finding our new denominational home.  Our commission has reached to the Session of the Okanogan Presbyterian Church to work in partnership with them as we are both seeking a new denomination.  While I cannot speak for the commission, I know that I would appreciate your ideas and thoughts on the denominational search.  Remember, we are not seeking safe harbor, but rather a denomination that will support our ministry efforts and challenge us to deeper discipleship and richer evangelism.  Please also keep in mind that the denomination we choose must be Reformed in theology, consistent with Presbyterian polity and have sufficient permanence so that we will not be dismissed into de facto independence.  We will and must be dismissed into another Reformed denomination from the Presbytery's perspective.
Among the many denominations for us to consider, our Executive Presbyter, the Rev. G. David Lambertson has suggested two denominations really stand out.  The first is the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO for short.  This is a newly created denomination and would mean that we would really be part of creating a new way of being a denomination.  The second is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a denomination created in 1981 that desired greater clarity in essentials.  These are just two of the options that could be considered.
Please pray for those that will serve on these two commissions and for our entire congregation in this process.  Our hope and pray is to follow the will of God as we seek to be better disciples of Christ.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Links to articles

At our first congregation forum I handed out three historic documents and an explanation of how we got here written by Carmen Fowler LaBerge for The Layman.  I thought it would be best to put up links to those articles on the blog for those unable to attend.  I hope in the next week to put forward a version of my own remarks on how we as a denomination got to this point and look forward to hearing other versions of this story as well.

The Adopting Act of 1729:  In essence, this was the opening shot in what would become a longstanding debate regarding the essential tenets of the Reformed Faith.  The document (paragraph 7 of the document distributed 2/26/12 in more contemporary English) instructs presbyteries to only admit to the office of minister those who uphold the "essential and necessary Articles" of faith found in the Westminster standards.  The Adopting Act clearly stated that the form of doctrine is found in the Westminster standards, but did not define what in said standards is essential and necessary and what is non-essential and/or unnecessary and thus able to be scrupled.  In brief, under the Adopting Act a minister had to affirm the essentials of the Westminster Confession, but could declare a departure from the standards so long as that departure was not deemed by the local presbytery to be a departure from one of the unnamed essentials.

Doctrinal Deliverance (1910):  The General Assembly meeting in Portland, Oregon attempted to define five fundamentals of faith, or, to use the language of the Adopting Act of 1729, five items that are essential and necessary article of faith.  The move toward the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910 was in reaction to three ministers ordained in the Presbytery of New York who refused to affirm the Virgin birth of Christ.  As the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to define what is essential and necessary, it was seen as an affront to those who hoped to uphold their understanding of the Adopting Act of 1729 that left what was essential and necessary undefined.  The five points of doctrine were, in brief:
  1. The Scriptures in their original manuscripts are inerrant.
  2. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
  3. That Christ's death is a substitutionary atonement for our sins.
  4. That Christ rose bodily from the grave on the third day.
  5. That the miracles of Christ are historical and actual events.
The Auburn Affirmation (1924):  The Auburn Affirmation was written in direct response to the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910.  Its purpose was to state opposition to any set of essential tenets being defined as necessary articles of faith.  In its closing paragraphs the Affirmation states, "We do not desire liberty to go beyond the teachings of evangelical Christianity.  But we maintain that it is our [referring to Church not Civil] constitutional right and our Christian duty within these limits to exercise liberty of thought and teaching, that we may more effectively preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour [sic] of the World."  The intent was to maintain charitable liberty within certain, though undefined, bounds.  In its fourth paragraph, the Affirmation seems to hold up the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, but softens each point of doctrine to admit more latitude in the specifics of what is believed.

How We Got Here (2012, The Layman):  Carmen Fowler LaBerge, executive editor of The Layman wrote this piece detailing how over the last 100 years (or so) the Presbyterian Church (USA) arrived at its form.  As editor of The Layman, an organization founded in opposition to the adoption of the Book of Confessions and the Confession of 1967 in particular, this article ought to be read with that perspective in mind. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Deep Discernment: A Recap of Pastor Bill's State of the Church Address

"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' "  -Matthew 28:16-20 ESV

Before assessing the state of the Church, one needs to be able to define what the Church is.  To do so, followers of Jesus must look to Scripture.  While several images of the Church exist in Scripture (such as Acts 2:42), the image we will be employing is the one at the conclusion of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In the passage (above) we see a list of characteristics, a set of activities and a promise.
The characteristics of the Church are:
  1. A non-ideal group of disciples.  The number of disciples is eleven, not the expected twelve.  The Church is always being perfected by the Holy Spirit as she follows after her Lord.  We are a work-in-progress. This point is made vividly and forcefully by Dale Bruner in his excellent commentary on Matthew
  2. A group obedient to the revealed will of Jesus.  Jesus told the disciples to go to a specific place and, amazingly enough, they did.  The Church continues to be attentive to the Word of the Lord, as he is revealed in Scripture--even daring obedience to this Lord.
  3. A group of worshipers that encompasses people with both faith and doubt.  The Church is made up of redeemed sinners who have been called to give glory to God in worship.  Worship is an act of faith, but those with doubts are still welcome in the worship act.  The worthiness of worship is dependent on the one being worshiped, and not necessarily on the absence of doubt in the worshiper.  This is a picture of Brennan Manning's 'triumphant limp,' from his excellent tome, "The Ragamuffin Gospel."
The Activities of the Church are:
  1. Going!  Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth and in his authority, he directs his Church (a very important point!) to go.  We are not called to sit and wait, to hope someone comes to us, or to do nothing.  We are called to be active in our faith, an activity that Jesus encompasses in the word, "go."
  2. Make disciples!  This is one word in Greek (Bruner suggests a translation of discipling, but my spell-check goes insane with that word, so I stick with the more useful two word phrase).  We are called to make disciples of all nations.  The Church is a new nation, in the technical sense of the word, meaning a single, united people group.  The Church is, therefore, not allowed to discriminate in the disciple-making activity.  This is not to say that we are to be accepting of sin, but rather that repentance and transformation are activities that occur once one is in a loving, saving relationship with the Master, Jesus, not before.  We are to spread the Gospel far and wide and let God gather in his own.
  3. Baptize!  Our baptism is into the covenant community.  Baptism is an invitation and welcoming sign into the presence of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In baptism we are claimed by God and sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is for us, a visible sign of an invisible reality that we belong to God.  In practical terms, this is worked out by belonging to Christ's Church.  We do not believe that a Christian can go without community and flourish.  We need one another because we all need Jesus together.
  4. Teach!  The content of our teaching is to be the commands of Jesus.  To understand and follow the commands of Jesus, we need to sit under the authority of Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture.  This means coming to know the full witness of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments and sitting under those who have thought deeply, prayerfully and powerfully about the implications found in the Bible as interpreted by the Holy Spirit.  As Presbyterians, we often view this last activity as our particular gift to share with the Church universal.  We cannot do this last activity, however, if we have failed to do the first three. 

The promise is one of presence.  Jesus claim that he will be with us always to the end of the age, is a promise that we will not be abandoned or forsaken in our mission until it is fulfilled at the end of days.  In the Old Testament, Joshua received a promise of presence for the mission before him (1:6-9) .  We have that same promise from Jesus for the mission before us--a mission to go, make disciples, baptize and teach.  The center of this mission is the making of disciples, and Jesus is with us all the way.

We are the people called to make disciples of Jesus for Jesus.  This mission is going well in many places in the world today.  In our corner of the world (the Western Hemisphere, North America, the United States, Washington State, North Central Washington, Okanogan County, Omak, First Presbyterian Church of Omak), the mission seems to have slowed.  Now there are a number of explanations for this slowing of disciple-making and a number of approaches to redress the halt.  We shall examine the explanations and then address the approaches to redress the halt.

Explanations for the Slowing of Disciple-Making:
  1. The World has moved on and does not care.  A childhood adage is at play here: 'When in doubt, blame somebody else--and when you know it was you, try to blame someone else anyway.'  This explanation places the blame firmly on those outside of the Church and accuses them of not being open and/or receptive to the Gospel of Jesus.  This is probably true, but it has not halted the mission of the Church nor did it hamper Jesus' own ministry.  Pointing fingers at the world likely will only lead the Church to further neglect the mission of disciple-making.
  2. God is causing His Church to dwindle Many pastors and theologians like to point to the story of Gideon's army.  Gideon was a 'judge,' or 'hero' of Israel called to deliver his people from the Midianites, a band of nomads that came about to ravage the people on a pretty regular basis.  (The Midianites always remind me of the grasshoppers in 'A Bug's Life.'  See the video!)  When God delivers his people through Gideon he diminishes Gideon's army so that everyone will know that it was His hand and not their own doing that delivered the people.  Some say that the diminishing of the Church is God doing something like this.  If that is the case, however, God will use His diminished Church to fulfill the mission in a surprising way that will reveal that God is building the Church and not us.  The end result, is that we are still called to the mission, but we are to view this mission primarily, if not entirely, as God's work through us.
  3. Disciple-Making is a lost art.  For a good number of years we have not had to work very hard at filling our pews on Sunday mornings.  Much like the mysterious voice in "Field of Dreams" said to Kevin Costner's character, "If you build it, they will come."  We built churches and people showed up.  With all of this success in our mission, somehow, in some very meaningful ways, we forgot how to do our mission when people did not just show up.  In essence, we forgot how to do the "Go" part.  In this view, the fault is with us and the deliverance is from the Lord.  We are called to repent and get on with the mission.  To be fair, many in this congregation and others have not lost this art, but we can all do better at it.
 Approaches to redress the slowing/halt of disciple-making:
  1. The Progressive Approach:  Each approach tends to couch the problem primarily in one of the three explanations offered above.  The Progressive Approach, surprisingly perhaps, takes the second explanation (God is dwindling the Church) as its basis.  The Progressive argument is that the Church has lost its way and has become an institution that harbors injustice in the form of discrimination (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.).  God is in some way refining the Church until we learn the lesson to reject discriminatory practices and follow after Jesus in justice-making activities (increasingly divorced from Scripture).  In other words, the problem is the Church is no longer acceptable to the world and so it must accommodate itself to culture of the world if it desires to make more disciples of Jesus.  The way forward is to allow more freedom in both function (the understanding of our faith and our mission) and form (the way we live out our faith and our mission).  The argument is that when we are allowed greater flexibility in both of these areas we will move toward God and God will bless us once more.
  2. The Fundamentalist Approach:  This approach tends to couch the problem primarily in the first explanation (the world is not listening).  The argument is that the Church is just fine the way it is in both function and form.  The Church is right, the Fundamentalist argues, and it is the world that must transform to be acceptable to the Church.  The Church is the keeper of Jesus, and if outsiders want to approach Jesus they must become more like those on the inside.  The way forward is to maintain a static approach to function and form, demanding compliance and acceptance of function and form as a sort of conversion.
  3. The Evangelical Approach:  The final approach finds the problem to primarily be the the third explanation (we have lost the art of disciple-making).  The evangelical approach acknowledges that the world is not listening (the Gospel ought to interrupt our lives) and that the Church is under the authority of God who may increase or decrease her numbers to fit His will.  The problem, then, is to be found with the Church.  We are no longer effectively communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The world is not listening because we are no longer speaking in terms it understands.  The Gospel has not changed, but the medium and ministries of transmission are in need of adjustment.  Thus, the Church must be open to a flexibility in form, even as it holds firmly to a set function of mission and ministry.
Now, each of the approaches has its own advantages and disadvantages.  The progressive approach allows one to move away from conflict with the world by becoming like the world.  The fundamentalist approach allows one the comfort of avoiding conflict within the Church by either uniting against the world or, more likely, ignoring the world all together.  The evangelical approach allows one to actively engage the world without the need to alter the Gospel.
It is my firm contention that the way forward is the Evangelical approach.  While such an approach will inevitably lead to conflict both within the Church and with the world, such conflict is necessary and appropriate for the the disciples of Jesus.  We simply must hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Jesus Christ and find creative ways of expressing this Gospel to a world as desperate for Jesus as we are.
A bit of history:  Now, adopting this Evangelical approach will not be easy and may require some major transitions in our life as a congregation together.  In order to understand the approaching transitional discernment and/or conflict, a look back at our history as a denomination may be in order.
Since the 1983 reunion of the southern and northern streams that would become the Presbyterian Church (USA), our denomination has been composed of a coalition of progressives and evangelicals.  Through a number of denominational splits beginning in the 1930s the fundamentalist element has largely not been included in the current denominational configuration (and frankly is absent from most of these separated Presbyterian orders as well).  Over the last almost 40 years, the tension between the two remaining groups has ebbed and flowed.  At the core of this tension is a basic disagreement over the question of how we can be disciple-makers (i.e. the progressive vs. evangelical approach).  While sharp words and biting criticism have come from both parties of this uneasy coalition, when one is charitable, one can say both groups desire to make disciples (whether this in fact the case is not in the purview of this post).
The progressive/evangelical coalition has been unraveling almost since its inception (and before).  The reunion did little to alleviate tension over progressive leaning decisions to support Angela Davis, to adopt a pro-choice stance and to pursue an agenda that was, by most estimations, deeply politically liberal.  Further, the recent tension over the authority of Scripture (with the symptomatic discussion regarding sexuality and ordination/marriage), the uniqueness and/or Lordship of Jesus Christ and transformation/adaptation of denominational structures to a changing cultural landscape have only exacerbated and served to accelerate the unraveling of the coalition.  So, a congregation in our current denominational predicament ought to be asking which side of this coalition they ought to be on (as I earlier indicated, I believe the evangelical approach is correct, but this is my view and one the Session will need to arrive at during their time of deep discernment).
In general, the PC(USA) has adopted the progressive approach to the problem of stalled disciple-making.  The result of this approach has led to a precipitous decline in membership rolls, baptisms and conversions.  A progressive might argue that this alright, given what God is doing.  An evangelical would say that we have declined because we have failed to hand on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints in a meaningful way in our current context.  Until recently, the congregations that adopted the evangelical approach in the PC(USA) were, for the most part, the ones that were growing, but this is no longer the case.  That is not to say that progressive congregations have all of the sudden seen an uptick in their rolls.  It is just to say that the current forms of evangelical discipleship are in need of further adaptation.
Even still, an Evangelical approach allows for a firm sense of essential theology, while allowing for a flexibility in the way the Gospel is shared in a community.  That evangelical congregations are in need of adjustment and adaptation in the forms of ministry is to be expected and, even, welcomed as we continue to follow Jesus in this vital act of obedience and worship.
Were the Session to recommend and this congregation to adopt an Evangelical approach to the mission of disciple-making for Jesus, that could happen in at least 4 different paths [these paths are similar to an article written by Carmen Fowler LaBerge recently in The Layman]:
  1. Stay within the PC(USA) and continue to make disciples.  In effect, this is defecting in place.
  2. Stay within the PC(USA) and join an affinity network, such as the Fellowship of Presbyterians, to differentiate ourselves in place.
  3. Leave the PC(USA) and join an existing Reformed Body, such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
  4. Leave the PC(USA) and join a new Reformed Body, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians [ECO], created precisely to support congregations as they adapt their ministries to better proclaim the Gospel.
Each of these paths have distinct advantages and disadvantages associated with them.  For my part, I believe the two most legitimate paths are #2 and #4 as they join us with other like-minded congregations in reclaiming the art of disciple-making for the glory of God.  Remaining in the PC(USA) without change does little to challenge us to greater disciple-making and leaving for an established denomination will mean, perhaps, adopting certain doctrines and practices that are foreign to our understanding of the Gospel (though, not necessarily).
The way forward from here will mean entering into a time of deep discernment.  This process will primarily be located in the ministry of the Elders serving on Session, but any path (with the exception of #1) will finally be decided by a vote of the congregation based on Session's recommendation.  In addition, in the meantime, we as a congregation will continue to meet together on a monthly basis, pending Session's approval, for a series of forums to continue to discuss mission and ministry, function and form and how we, right here and right now, can make disciples for Jesus to the glory of God.
As we move forward, this blog will continue to be updated with information on the process, the prayers and the ponderings of the pastor, and, more importantly the Session as well.  The Session is set to meet on February 14 for their regular meeting at which time my invitation to enter into this time of deep discernment will be considered and debated.  Please be in prayer for the Session as they come to this hard question and consider the difficult way forward as we follow Jesus together.  Above all, pray that all of this is done for the glory of God alone as we seek to build Christ's Church.