This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
A recent survey from Renewal Fellowship asked readers where their minds were at four months after the historic change in doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). It was hardly a scientific survey, but the responses mirrored what we’ve been hearing in conversations: In general, “We are staying in the PCC for now, while waiting to see what the next General Assembly enacts.”
Within the tent of orthodoxy (defined roughly as those who aren’t comfortable with the formal adoption of parallel definitions of marriage by General Assembly in June) are those who are actively planning to depart no matter what (if they haven’t already), those who are being called to remain within the PCC and those who are hoping and praying for a positive response to the 31 overtures calling for action on the gracious dismissal study and 21 overtures seeking denominational restructuring along theological lines.
The “tent” analogy is a generalization and suggests that there are no firm boundaries; there’s movement within the camps — and great mutual love and co-operation also, for the record.
It’s the response to the overtures that has the attention of many, especially those who are in a “wait and see” mindset. As previously communicated here and in social media, we are actively praying for the members of Assembly Council (AC), who are actively discerning recommendations to General Assembly.
The AC has established (from its membership) a Departures/Alternate Governance Working Group, consisting of Brenda Butler, Henry Han, Peter Kinch (convener), Jeff Murray, Barb Sargent, Linda Shaw, John-Peter Smit, plus Clerks of Assembly Stephen Kendall and Don Muir. The group made a progress report to the November 21-24 Council meeting and hopes to make a final report to the next General Assembly.
As this group works actively to discern a possible response, I would suggest that three things need to be made abundantly clear. (These imperatives are not just to the working group but to the wider denomination, especially those who identify as progressive.)
First, the wider denomination is invited to recognize the profound sense of dis-ease over the changes in doctrine. The paucity of scriptural underpinnings supporting this doctrinal shift is deeply alarming to a significant number of active leaders in the denomination. They are looking for common ground and certainty in both canon and polity as presented in Matthew 7:24-27.
Second, we are invited to recognize and accept that on all sides of our theological spectrum, we are deeply entrenched. The aforementioned survey attracted most of its responses from ministers, which was not surprising. But what did catch our attention was that the most insightful answers came from non-clergy. Two of them hit the nail on the head.
“There is no middle ground,” wrote an Ottawa-area elder.
Said a Quebec elder: “A kingdom divided cannot stand.”
Pause and reflect on those.
Middle ground is defined as standing between two or more conflicting and opposing positions. Parallel definitions, anyone? I don’t think anyone can claim with any seriousness that there’s no appreciable division in the PCC.
On that note, there is, thirdly, an opportunity here to take bold leadership as denomination and seek accommodation for all. Realistically, “parallel definitions” of marriage and “liberty of conscience” are non-starters for many who either describe themselves as orthodox or as progressive. For them, the language of the remits does not provide middle ground. So, let’s allow birds of a feather to flock together or for others to leave the nest. What a wonderful opportunity to end the infighting.
I echo the prayer posted in recent weeks on the Pray for the PCC group on Facebook.
“May all voices, especially those in the minority, be heard, acknowledged and incorporated into any decision. May this not be a place where a weak majority, a 50+1, rules the day. May the Council be willing to submit to the awesomeness of God, whose ways may not be politically attractive or expedient or immediately gratifying but pave the way for kingdom living. Amen.”