Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Does the Fellowship of Presbyterians Actually Make Sense (Part One)

I have tried not to spent much time commenting on denominational issues in this blog, but as someone who identifies as an evangelical pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I think recent events are worth discussing. Specifically, given these recent developments, I think the question must be asked if the Fellowship of Presbyterians enterprise makes any sense. You will recall that the Fellowship began in early 2011 and was revealed by the release of a "White Paper" which diagnosed serious problems within the Presbyterian Church (USA), going so far as to call the denomination "deathly ill." The initial Fellowship leadership was a group of tall steeple church pastors of the evangelical persuasion.

My first reaction to the news was "yet another evangelical group that probably will huff and puff and go nowhere." I had in mind the Confessing Church movement, which signed up over 1,300 congregations, held a huge "Confessing Church Celebration" in Atlanta, and then ... disappeared. I also had in mind the New Wineskins group, which sounded like a group that wanted to change ministry in the PC(USA) but developed more into a transmission belt for congregations seeking to leave for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. Plus there is a plethora of conservative or evangelical groups in the PC(USA) that have been around a long time.

However, the vitriolic response to the Fellowship's initial documents from many theological progressives and PC(USA) institutional loyalists (one letter to the Presbyterian Outlook even criticized the drafters of the "White Paper" for calling it the "White Paper" because that showed racial insensitivity. Such a reaction is a self-parody.) suggested to me and others that perhaps this Fellowship was indeed proposing something that could make a difference ...


Viola Larson said...

John I agree-that there has been such negative reactions to the Fellowship by progressives does speak to their potential for doing good in the kingdom of God. I have contended for a long time that we cannot know all of the ways God is working to turn the PCUSA back from its movement away from Christ but we can be fairly certain that the Fellowship is a part of that plan.

Pastor Jeff said...

Hey John! My sense is that The Fellowship is the first evangelical movement in quite a while that our "progressive" friends find threatening. The leadership is articulate, experienced, thoughtful, and (I presume) well financed. Those of us who are now part of the "far right" in the PC(USA) would have probably been seen as the theological center when I was ordained in 1982. By your ordination, having lost a of wave of evangelicals to the PCA, we would have been seen as somewhat right of center. After the next wave from the right went to the EPC, we've become the far right, and the radical left of my youth is now the mushy middle. I wonder just how long this can go on!

The reason I point this out is that most of the evangelicals that are still around in the PCUSA probably wouldn't feel at home in the PCA or EPC. Wouldn't it be weird to go from being the most conservative member of your presbytery to being the most liberal member of your new presbytery? But, the formation of this NRB appears to be an attempt to create a home where those who were once in the middle can be in the middle once again.

I'm eager to see how God moves this January in Orlando.