III. IDENTIFYING OUR CHALLENGES
Because the animating values of those in the PCA are so much more diverse than its formal values, the PCA has struggled to maximize its organizational strengths. For example, despite our formal values of connectional polity and cooperative ministry, less than half of the churches of the PCA support any denominational agency or committee (less than 20 percent give at the Partnership Share level). Presbyteries are increasingly perceived as mere credentialing bureaus or discipline courts with little ability to unite members in ministry. The cooperative efforts that do exist are often directed toward affinity gatherings or the ministries of large churches that have become missional expressions of the animating values of specific groups.
This is not to suggest that overall there has been a great deal of cooperative effort. We remain an anti-denominational denomination – excusing individualistic ministry by re-telling the narratives of past abuses in former denominations, demonizing denominational leadership or movements to justify non-support of the larger church, or simply making self-survival or selffulfillment the consuming goal of local church ministry. In these respects we simply reflect the surrounding secular and religious culture where institutional and organizational commitments have been eroded by the demise of family systems and loss of community identity. These losses are exacerbated by economic and technological changes that simultaneously shrink our world and allow each of us to live in personal isolation or in shrinking, special-interest enclaves. However unique we may feel is our struggling to maintain historical distinctions, ministry continuity and generational cohesion, we actually echo struggles occurring in every major Evangelical denomination. The response of most has been to focus increasingly on their own security, not recognizing that (for denominations as well as local churches) allowing people to focus on themselves inevitably destroys the selflessness that is the church’s lifeblood.
In order for those of us in the PCA to see beyond self-interests and to be willing to work cooperatively despite differences in our animating values, we must have a renewed sense of collective mission. The catalytic power of our founding was fueled by a shared zeal to wrest a Biblical church from mainline corruptions. Differing understandings of what it meant to hold to Reformed distinctions in ministry and mission were either unrecognized or suppressed to support the primary mission of combating liberalism. That mission was compelling enough unite us in ministry despite our differences. Willingness now to honor our differences while harnessing our shared blessings will again require a sense of being united in a cause that is of similar Biblical consequence.
Such a cause cannot be concocted from marketing schemes or designed to reflect the ministry preferences of a particular branch of our denomination. The cause that is our present calling must be forged from a comprehensive and realistic understanding of the challenges this generation must face in order to live faithfully before God and for his Kingdom. Some of these challenges are external, thrust upon us by dynamics of our history and culture. Other challenges are of our own making and will have to be honestly faced and fairly handled in order for our church to participate meaningfully in God’s purposes. Such external and internal challenges the PCA faces are listed below. These lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather are intended to help us face the magnitude of our tasks and, consequently, the necessity of facing them together.
Summary: The PCA is not a united denomination. Part of this is due to a history of various groups forming a coalition against the heirarchy of the PCUS in order to form the PCA. The forming of a separate denomination opened up the disagreements among these groups. The present problem is shown by the fact that individual churches generally do not support the denomination. Blaming the denominational leadership is the main problem. However, our current challenge means we have to rethink what we’re doing.
Comment: The problems of the denomination date back to its beginning, when it was formed by disparate groups within the PCUS who were united in their opposition to the direction the denomination was going, but not by much else. The inherent weaknesses of the coalition appeared after the denomination was formed. Unfortunately, little was done to overcome those divisions. It is true that many blame the PCA denominational heirarchy. While that heirarchy is certainly not responsible for all the problems we face as a denomination, it has done little to alleviate concerns among individual members, member churches, and member presbyteries, often acting in ways that simply exacerbate the problems. Two illustrations will suffice. “We are a grass-roots denomination” is a slogan that has often been heard at GA. Whether the people using this phrase recognize it or not, what people hear is that indivudal churches may do as they please. That has been the de facto practice of the church since its inception. Second, the PCA has become another PCUS—not in theology, but in the way it conducts business. The denominational heirarchy has become increasingly divorced from the denomination at large. At least in appearances, it is following the lead of a handful of the largest churches in the denomination with little consideration or, seemingly, concern for the vast majority of churches.
Our current challenge, however, is not different from the challenge to the church throughout the ages. We are to be a church that faithfully preaches the whole counsel of God both within the church and to the surrounding world. That may be done in different ways by different churches and by different indivduals. It is in part the responsibility of presbyteries and the General Assembly to support churches in this worlk as long as they are not compromising the constitution of the church.