"Turning Toward the Mission of God:
A Strategy for the Transformation of the P.C.(USA)

[Moderator's Note: the following - reproduced from the Layman (and the proposed declaration associated with it) - is the result of the efforts of a "Visioning Team" from the Presbyterian Coalition to envision a renewal of the PC(USA). We post it with a profound sadness. Its adoption by the PC(USA) at large would, indeed, be a requiem for the historic Presbyterian church and its dedication to a responsible progressive theology. We post it also, however, with an equally profound hope - a hope that it will call all of us to reflection and prayer - and to a renewal of our own Reformed understanding of what it means to follow Christ.]


 

Introduction

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22) 

As the fellowship of men and women who have been made partakers of the divine life through our engrafting into Christ by the power of the Spirit, the church seeks to live out its faith in and through the concrete structures and activities of her daily life and worship. 

As the necessary complement to the Declaration of Faith, we offer the following strategic proposals for the Coalition's service to the whole church in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the present context it seemed good to us to lift up six areas of church life (mission, polity, discipline, theological education, worship, and educational ministries), suggested by the text of the Declaration of Faith, as fruitful areas for critical reflection, prayer, and striving as we seek to live out the new life which God has opened up to us in Jesus Christ. 

We anticipate that these six areas of transformation will be the focus of particular working groups. The role of each group will be to examine the needs of the church in their area and apply the affirmations of the Declaration of Faith in setting specific objectives for renewing and building up the church. They will propose and develop strategies for accomplishing their own priority objectives within a five year period. 

These detailed proposals will be offered up to the wider church for consideration and implementation. We affirm that this work of renewal will be carried on in and through the existing structures of the PCUSA whenever possible. The fruit of our labors are presented here as an offering by the Coalition for the building up of the whole church of Christ. 

The general work of each task force is described in relation to an area of the Declaration of Faith, and each contains examples of existing problems and suggestions for action. They represent concerns and ideas which the Visioning Team discussed and offer as a starting place for discussion as the task forces begin their work. 

We anticipate that the outcome of implementing this plan will be a church engaged more fully in building up its own body theologically, spiritually, and morally, and more unified in the practice of Christian discipleship; 

 

where the local congregations are more actively involved in determining and carrying out the mission of the church; 

where the decisions and actions of higher governing bodies more faithfully reflect the commitments of local congregations; 

where church members and their elected leadership at all levels seek and find forgiveness and a restored life in Christ; 

where the structures that are intended to order our life together are more cost-effective, streamlined, and effective at determining and carrying out the will of the body; and 

where the Triune God is worshipped in spirit and in truth.


Six strategies for Church renewal


The Renewal of Mission
(condensed paraphrase)

At the center of the church's mission is a burden for the unreached and a desire to see persons and cultures transformed to the glory of God. To renew mission, we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles:

A universalist theology that diminishes the urgency of the Gospel message.

A witness which echoes a particular cultural ideology rather than biblical fidelity.

A limited and biased view of ecumenism which has not allowed us to be in conversation with other evangelical mission enterprises or the rapidly expanding third-world mission organizations.

Strategies will engender a missional understanding of the church, foster local church initiatives in international mission and innovative new church development, evaluate continuing involvement in COCU, the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches, and explore participation in evangelical ecumenical organizations.


The Renewal of Polity
(condensed paraphrase)

Presbyterian polity must promote the spiritual objectives of the church, establishing proper lines of accountability, and placing decision making and mission in the governing body closest to the congregation. To renew our polity we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles: 

A centralized control system that impedes the church's mission 
Issues of financial accountability
Reductions of the Book of Order from a Constitution to an operations manual  Our failure to be knowledgeable, faithful, and responsible presbyters 

Strategies envision the elimination of many offices that are unwieldy and biblically unfaithful and the implementation of a long-range plan for recruiting and equipping biblically faithful and effective leaders at every level of church governance.


The Renewal of Church Discipline
(condensed paraphrase)

We must be a disciplined community of faith whose members are accountable to God and to one another for the faithful living out of the Gospel. To renew church discipline we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles:

Refusal to live under the authority of the church's biblical and constitutional standards. 
Theological and moral pluralism at the expense of biblical and constitutional faithfulness. 
Distorted grace which confuses moral permissiveness with biblical compassion. 
Pursuit of personal privacy which undermines practices of self-examination, mutual accountability and encouragement. 
Neglect of denominational procedures for the theological and moral examination of church officers and the disciplining of flagrant violations of constitutional standards. 

Strategies include developing covenant groups for mutual accountability, ministries to restore persons whose behavior has estranged them from biblical standards, strengthened examination procedures and expectations of elected and employed church leaders.


The Renewal of Theological Education
(condensed paraphrase)

We must have theological institutions which support the mission of local congregations in equipping believers to know the scriptures and think theologically within the Trinitarian faith of the church. To renew theological education we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles: 

Theological education that is captive to ideologies alien to the church's faith. 
Theological education that is primarily responsive to the interests and agendas of the academy rather than to the mission of the church. 
Seminary graduates who are ill equipped for pastoral ministry. 

Strategies include channeling support to those seminaries that promote Trinitarian faith, uphold constitutional standards and equip students for pastoral ministry. Students and financial support will be directed away from seminaries that do not affirm these values. A variety of innovative, alternative approaches to theological education, including the use of mentoring churches will be explored.


The Renewal of Worship
(condensed paraphrase)

 

We must have worship that is Trinitarian, dynamic, and relevant to its cultural setting. To renew church worship we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles: 

The idolatry of insisting that any one worship style expresses the Reformed tradition.
Nonbiblical and uncompelling preaching. 
Worship services that are manipulated by political and ideological agendas.  A high level of suspicion of worship that appeals to the heart as well as to the mind. 
Failure to teach our children how to worship ... 

Strategies include encouraging various styles of worship that are true to Trinitarian faith, developing training centers, mentoring churches and worship materials that cross barriers of class, ethnicity, age and culture.


The Renewal of Educational Ministries
(condensed paraphrase)

We must promote a life-long process of growth in the knowledge of and obedience to Christ as revealed in Scripture. To renew educational ministries we must confront these frequently encountered obstacles: 

The loss of the Christian home as the primary school for faith and life. 
Denominational youth and college ministry resources and programs which our churches cannot trust to be biblically faithful and effective. 
Congregational youth ministries which have failed to function as effective instruments for reaching young people outside the church. 
The great exodus of college age students from the life of the church. 
Diminishing biblical knowledge and theological reasoning within our congregations. 
The neglect of devotional practices and piety which are faithful to the Reformed tradition.
Denominational curricula and materials that are inadequate for teaching biblical faith and frequently defy constitutional standards ... 

Strategies include equipping families for the spiritual nurture of their children, developing biblically faithful ministries for youth both inside and outside the church, developing congregationally based campus ministries that focus on evangelism and nurture, developing biblically faithful curricula for congregational instruction of young people in sexual purity and sexuality, and developing Bible study materials for all ages.

Proposed declaration for the Church


Hesed Home Page

Hesed Index

Presbyterian Layman