My Photo
Location: United States

I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The PCA’s New Strategic Plan (II)

Creating a Perspective for Planning (II)

As promised, I want to take several issues of Ethos and outline the PCA’s proposed “Strategic Plan.” My wife served on the National Board of the PCA’s Women in the Church and came home last year with a CD presentation that we listened to together. Most recently, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. Roy Taylor, presented the document to a session at Twin Lakes Fellowship in Jackson, MS. I was not impressed with the proposed document when I listened to the presentation on disc or when Dr. Taylor spoke about it. In fact, just the converse is true. I have serious concerns about it, which I will outline in this and subsequent issues.

The first main heading is entitled “Creating a Perspective for Planning.” The introduction reminds us that the PCA is heading into its fourth decade. It strikes an ominous note at the outside stating that the numerical growth the PCA enjoyed from the beginning of its existence (approximately 5-8%/year) has diminished to between 2-3%. At this point in the presentation, I would have expected a rationale or guess-timate of why this phenomenon has occurred. Was it because the PCA was too traditional? Or, was it because some in the PCA had ventured out into a realm that was less Presbyterian and more like the myriad “community” churches springing up across the fruited plain? Is the decline due to too much liturgy and the application of the regulative principle or due to too little biblical liturgy? Is the decline caused by ignoring modern culture or becoming so much like it that there is little difference between the Church and the world?

None of these questions are addressed. Rather, we are given this statement: “Organizations that best fulfill their mission determine how to maintain their values while honestly facing challenges that could lead to long-term decline.” The tack is to speak in terms of a business-like organization (a modified version of the “S” curve also supplants answering the situation biblically). Is the PCA little more than an organization? Do we or should we operate on business principles when addressing an issue such as loss of membership? Should we bring in Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Bill Hybels to teach us how to attract a crowd?

The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to help “the PCA identify its challenges, address them with strategies that are consistent with our biblical values, and build denominational support for implementing these strategies” (1). I am under the impression that the PCA is not a monolithic entity. Identifying challenges in, say, New York City, might look quite different from challenges in Lakeview, TX or where I pastor, in Yorba Linda, CA (No, not Rio Linda, Yorba Linda) near Anaheim. Simultaneously, it might seem to some like me that each local congregation along with its Teaching and Ruling Elders, Deacons, and Women in the Church Boards might be able to identify which challenges face them and how to solve them biblically and in a fashion that is pleasing to the Lord. I’m not all that keen on someone telling me what I already know, but this is a trend that has been generated at recent General Assemblies in the form of creating a “study committee.”

At least twice the proposal has been put forward, seconded, and thankfully defeated that we need study committees regarding the Westminster Standards. That has always struck me as more than just a little odd in a room full of theologians and seminary graduates. Moreover, doesn’t it seem more rational that we fully read and studied the Westminster Standards before we signed them? Am I truly so theologically inept that I need someone else to explain justification by faith to me before I can properly understand it? I certainly hope not!

At any rate, a sub-category of the Introduction is entitled “Charting Change.” What is suggested here is that “In order to bring about healthy change a church must develop a ‘holy discontent’ with some aspects of its present situation” (2). The paper goes on: “If people assume that everything is right…then there is no incentive to change.” (Ibid.) This is true, of course. The paper continues, “Apathy and immobility characterize the church because any change is presumed to be the enemy of present comfort.” (Ibid.) This sentence troubles me greatly for a number of reasons.

First, while it may be true that apathy and immobility can be deterrents to growth, by the second page the proposal has not constituted that this is the case in the PCA. Granted there may be some apathetic congregants in the PCA, this hardly constitutes a denomination-wide malady. I must admit that I am unsure about the precise definition and connation of the word “immobility.” Our church facilities tend to be generally immobile, but it seems the good folks who put this proposal together (does anyone know who put this together?) have something else in mind with “immobility” that is not explained. Before we move on to the next point, it’s important to analyze the words “present comfort.” Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that “present comfort” and “true biblical worship” coincide. If our worship is being conducted according to the Word of God and the rich Presbyterian and Reformed heritage that has been passed on to us, should we be chomping at the bit to change that? I’m just askin’.

Second, the antipathy to the “everything is right” crowd is a “everything is wrong” constituency. Frankly, I don’t know anyone from either group, but the crowd that met in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors to hammer this proposal out must know quite a few. Or maybe they’re just using another business model and haven’t told us yet. It is precisely these vagaries that prevent me from getting a jump start on my “holy discontent.” Right now, I’m mired down in “holy confusion.” I understand that I should not be apathetic, immobile (may I move now?), cynical, or paralyzed.[1] Maybe the immobility stems from paralysis. I don’t know. I’m just sayin’.

Third, acknowledging that both of these models (ER and EW) are incorrect, we must realize that “Healthy change occurs when problems are acknowledged—providing motivation for change—along with a realistic vision of what life can be when problems are addressed—providing hope for the future. It seems to me that recently we encountered someone pounding the drum for change that we could believe in. (I suppose change you cannot believe in must be a possibility as well.) Healthy change does not occur in a vacuum or on its own. Healthy change also does not occur automatically merely by pinpointing problems. The present presidential administration has delineated a number of problems, but the solutions that have been thus far implemented have been worse than the problems. And yet, the President continues to insist that universal health care will reduce the deficit (even though it has caused deficits to skyrocket in other countries), that his cap and trade will necessarily cause electricity rates to skyrocket), and that the redistribution of wealth (socialism, at best) is a good thing. At this stage, I’m wondering how we are to identify those “healthy changes” that will solve more problems than they create.

[1] The definition of the everything is wrong crowd is this: “Those who seek to bring about change by claiming the everything is wrong…create cynicism and paralysis.” (2.)



Post a Comment

<< Home