Monday, January 03, 2011

What Does Connectional Mean?

One of the contributing factors to my recent hiatus in blogging is the frustration I have felt with my denomination's apparent departure from the Reformed Faith. Too often we are asked to accept the will of the denomination as it is expressed by the higher governing bodies because we are a connectional church.

I tend to agree with Beau Weston's concept of "Principled Centrism". To simplify Beau's thesis, there is the good, the bad, and the "good enough". For me, the problem arises when the "bad" starts to dominate the politics of the denomination. Being "connectional" becomes more difficult. But what are our connections?

The first and defining connection of this and every Reformed denomination is our connection to God as expresed in the "Solas" of the Reformation -- By the Scriptures Alone, By Faith Alone, By Grace Alone, Through Christ Alone, and to God Alone be Glory. I won't get into which issues I am frustrated with, but suffice it to say there are more than one. And the first of the listed Solas is seemingly the one most ignored when the General Assembly deliberates.

We are a diverse body, but not all levels in the denominational hierarchy are equally representative. One only need to look at The Presbyterian Panel surveys to see how disconnected the various groups within the church are. The surveys typical separate members, elders, pastoral clergy, and specialized clergy, with the first three tending to cluster together. The specialized clergy seem to be quite different from the other three groups, tending more toward the liberal end of things. It is not hard to see why members in the local congregations see a disconnect between where they are and where the denomination's highest level is.

So why am I still a Presbyterian? Well one pragmatic fact is that the PC(USA) recognizes that God calls men and women to serve as deacons, elders, and ministers -- which is not always shared by other Presbyterian bodies. I am loath to consider a denomination that denies my wife's calling as an elder. But the clincher for me is in what make a church the Church. It is where two or three (or more) are gathered in Jesus Christ's name. The Church is not defined by the structure of the denomination. What makes a church the Church is found in the worship, fellowship, nurture, education, and proclamation of the Gospel by local congregations. This is not so say we are congregationalists, but what defines us a Christians happen locally. What defines us as Presbyterians happens in Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assembly, and the two are not necessarily equivalent. As long as my corner of the Presbyterian Church remains faithful, I can remain where I am.

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