The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, Roy Taylor, points out that for Presbyterians this is one wave following many others. Those waves of denominational reformation include the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
When historically mainline denominations accommodate themselves to the culture, what emerges in every case is a remnant faithful to the foundations. They find one another and build together a new expression of the faith once delivered.
The first such new Reformed body to emerge in this generation was the Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches. Many of its constituent congregations were once affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) or its predecessor denominations. More a network than a denomination, the EARCCC is a landing place for Reformed and Congregational Christian churches whose denominations have run afoul of the historic faith.
As the Episcopal Church (USA) followed the UCC down the path of cultural accommodation, a variety of Anglican responses emerged to answer the question of where faithful refugee congregations might flee. The first lifeboats came from foreign shores. Those fleeing were received by episcopacies in Africa, Australia and South America. Over time the waters settled and an ingathering is now taking place. Described on their Website as “new wineskin,” American Anglicans are now drawing together as the Anglican Church in North America. Individual congregations continue to realign from the ECUSA but more prevalent are home mission fellowships of former Episcopalians planting Anglican churches across the United States.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) is experiencing similar fracturing following their 2009 vote to ordain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT). Lutheran CORE emerged with the stated hope of continuing communication and fellowship among faithful Lutherans who would remain within the ELCA and those whose conscience required them to depart. A couple of years down that road, the new Reformed body for Lutherans has been organized and is growing. The North American Lutheran Church already has more than 300 constituent congregations.
What all these new bodies have in common is astounding. They are Christ-centered, confessionally grounded, mission driven and congregationally focused. Each of them is doing the difficult pastoral work of assisting congregations and ministers coming out of unhealthy denominational structures and helping them to discover new and creative ways to work together in partnership to advance the work of the Kingdom.
For Presbyterians, part of the story follows a similar trend. The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly voted in July 2010 to remove the explicit “fidelity and chastity” language from the Book of Order which defined the bounds of acceptable sexual expression for ordained officers. A majority of PCUSA presbyteries voted to ratify that action and on July 10, 2011 Amendment 10A took effect. The first openly gay minister was ordained in the PCUSA on October 8.
The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, Roy Taylor, points out that for Presbyterians this is one wave following many others. Those waves of denominational reformation include the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Other branches now appear to be sprouting as the PCUSA continues down a post-Christian path.
The New Wineskins Association of Churches was instrumental in casting a vision that captured the hearts and imaginations of those congregations who longed to be a part of a connectional system unashamedly grounded in the essential tenets of the Reformed faith and equally committed to mobilizing congregations for missional effectiveness in the 21st century. Sensing that its calling has been fulfilled and that others are now taking up the mantle of missional reformation for American Presbyterians, the NWAC is holding its final event on Monday, October 24 in Pittsburgh. The goal is to equip those congregations interested in what the Fellowship of Presbyterians have called Tiers 4 and 5: seeking realignment from the PCUSA to either a new Reformed body or an existing Reformed denomination.
Having exhausted the language of a “new wineskin” over the past decade, the chosen description for Presbyterians in this wave is the formation of a new Reformed body. What that body will look like or even be called is yet to be seen. But not everyone is waiting for The Fellowship to post ideas. One group has taken the bold step of posting their thoughts on the matter, casting a vision for a National Covenant Presbyterian Church.
What may look like a fairly stormy sea of change to some, looks to others like a great opportunity to embrace a new ecumenism. More than a fellowship that gathers to give collective voice to evangelical political concerns, the Christian leaders involved in all of these post-mainline expressions of orthodox Christian faith, along with those who remain as faithful witnesses and missionaries to the historic mainline denominations, see God doing a new thing among them. Might God be knitting together a new national community whose shared commitment is to bolding confess Christ in a post-Christian culture? That would be a wave worth catching into the future filled with hope God has planned for His people.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and executive editor of its publications. This article first appeared on The Layman website and is used with permission. [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]