Saturday, November 6, 2010

Presbyterian Church (USA): Vital Resources for Venturing towards a Missional Future

Maybe this is precisely where I am supposed to be as an Inquirer for Ordination within this denomination, but I continually wrestle with a wide variety of issues related to the missional church, the PCUSA in particular, and the related conversations there within. It could be said that the PCUSA is one of the prime examples of Western ecclesial paradigms saturated in extra-biblical resources that forms the life, government, and mission of these ecclesial institutions, i.e. Book of Order, Book of Confession, Book of Common Worship, etc. That said, I often find myself exhausted, sometimes limited, in PCUSA conversations related to what it means to be the church within emerging, postmodern, postcolonial conversations. It can be quite difficult to move in rhythm with missional convictions and callings, as individuals and communities, when we are confronted with the reality that we must not only adhere to biblical faithfulness, but also the daunting collection of secondary sources (often mistaken as primary) in order to be supported, recognized, and affirmed by the denomination at large. Furthermore, these documents have often failed to take into consideration that they were primarily developed within the context of the Western white world of power and privilege and then imposed upon other communities in diverse, non-Western, non-white communities, i.e. Africa, Asia, Central and South America, etc. This is not to discount the contributions of the Western theologians, confessions, and people of faith formed by them, i.e. Calvin, Barth, Heidelberg Catechism, Scots Confession, Barmen Declaration, etc., for these are certainly important witnesses to not only the gospel, but also the gospel as incarnated within particular eras and contexts (including Nazi Germany). However, if the PCUSA is to be faithful in the days ahead and to exist not as a denomination of imposition but of humility, generosity, and grace, it must begin to embrace the contextualization of both the gospel message and method. In other words, we must be reminded that Scripture and the constitutional documents cannot be read, interpreted, and incarnated absolutely and universally, once and for all. Unfortunately, the relinquishing of control of the latter is often more feared than the former.

That being said, I have been grateful for the recent conversations that have been had by the PCUSA over the past few years, especially as it considers what it would look like for the denomination to embrace the missional turn of the church, abbreviate constitutional documents and thus leave room for contextualization of message and method, and reevaluate the church's stance on a wide variety of significant, albeit controversial issues. This is a refreshing testament to the denominations quest to be faithful to the gospel and to bear witness to person of Jesus in a wide variety of cultural contexts. Yes, we are reformed and reforming. Moreover, in such conversations the PCUSA has recognized its need to expand its confessional documents to include non-Western, non-white attestations to manifestations of gospel faithfulness in the midst of oppressive contexts, i.e. Belhar Confession in the wake of South African Apartheid (see a previous blog entry: "Belhar Confession: A Bold and Intentional Incorporation?"). Finally, I must note that my gratitude for and engagement with these recent discourses is because I have come to love this denomination, value its history, and believe in its future. That is to say, the present dialogue will only enhance the witness of God's people gathered within this particular denomination, especially as it opens itself to new and fresh possibilities.

As I continue to wrestle with the PCUSA's venture towards a missional future, I invite you to join me. Moreover, I ask that you would converse with me as I am surely a novice to the denominational positions, traditions, and incarnations of our missional vocations. Below are some helpful documents as we move forward together…and may God's Spirit go with us as we seek to be "a provisional demonstration of what God intends for the world" (Book of Order, G-3.0200).