The leadership of the PCUSA has responded to the “Fellowship PCUSA” letter. Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, General Aeembly Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, and General Assembly Mission Council director Linda Valentine put out a missive entitled “Future of the church” that says about what you’d expect. Most of is is standard boilerplate, but this caught my eye:
We hear many voices seeking God’s guidance in discerning how to move forward in a rapidly evolving church and culture. A number of pastors recently issued a Letter to the Presbyterian Church, expressing frustration and calling for something new. Elsewhere, an open invitation has been extended to a conversation about more vital, faithful and connectional congregational ministry in the “next” PC(USA). The 219th General Assembly (2010) empowered a Middle Governing Body Commission, not only to consider the relationships of our middle governing bodies, but to act, upon request, responsively in new expressions of the church. Another task force has been set into motion to consider the whole form and function of our meetings of the general assembly, another is examining what the nature of the church is in the 21st century, and yet another is considering how we can live up to our aspirations for racial and ethnic diversity. Presbyterians everywhere long for vibrant congregations and communities of faith, and relationships built upon trust and our common faith in Jesus Christ.
Talk about missing the point. In one paragraph, they manage to mention not one, not two, but four committees, two of which have to do with tweaking the machinery, one of which has to do with secondary theology, and one of which has to do with a problem that is virtually non-existent in the mainline churches. If committees could solve the problems of the mainline churches, they’d be the biggest, most vital religious organizations in America.
The problems of the mainline are three-fold. First, there’s the theological problem. Much of the bureaucratic leadership, virtually all of the seminary teachers, and a substantial portion of the pastors have abandoned historic Christian orthodoxy, so that they have no good news to offer to a lost world. Second, the the mission problem. Because theological orthodoxy has been abandoned, the mission of reaching the world with the gospel of Christ has been laid aside, and political activism has replaced it. Finally, there’s the spiritual problem. As theological orthodoxy fades, and the biblical mission of the church takes a back seat, congregations–the heart of any denomination–lose heart, see themselves as increasingly irrelevant, isolated, and purposeless. All the institutional tinkering in the world isn’t going to change any of this.
For the PCUSA troika to talk about “middle governing bodies” and “new forms and functions” for General Assembly indicates that they still don’t realize that the crisis of the mainline in general, and the PCUSA in particular, isn’t a polity crisis. It’s a God crisis.