Sometimes reading is hazardous to a sense of reality. Trust can be broken in the midst of a hierarchy of words.
Several Pastors, within and without the PCUSA, recently blogged on the Advisory Committee on the Constitution’s advise on the Presbytery of Charlotte’s questions about the transfer of ministers and Congregations to Transitional Presbyteries.
The two questions were:
Can a presbytery dismiss a congregation to a transitional presbytery in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?
Can a presbytery dismiss a minister of the Word and Sacrament to a transitional presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?
One blogger who is an Evangelical Presbyterian Church Pastor is naturally interested. Pastor David Fischler of the The Reformed Pastor wrote Down the Rabbit Hole. And Presbyterian USA Pastor Toby Brown of Classical Presbyterian wrote, Ex Cathedra: The ACC of the PC(USA) takes aim at dismissals to the EPC . The first blog posting I read about the advisory was after returning home from a Presbytery meeting. It was written by Pastor Bob Davis at Presbyblog. He wrote, May 6, 2008: ACC recommends Authoritative Interpretation regarding transitional presbyteries .
Davis points out the advisory's recommendations to Presbyteries. He writes:
"The provisions of G-15.0203 a and b do, however, require that the General Assembly, as the highest governing body of this denomination, advise its presbyteries in this matter. The 218th General Assembly (2008) therefore advises the presbyteries that they must satisfy themselves concerning the conformity with this denomination of a transitional presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in matters of doctrines and order. Presbyteries may facilitate the exploration of conformity by means of an administrative commission, although such commissions may not be empowered to approve the dismissal of the congregation. In exploring this matter, presbyteries should consider such questions as whether the receiving EPC presbytery is
doctrinally consistent with the essentials of Reformed theology as understood by the presbytery;
governed by a polity that is consistent in form and structure with that of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A);
of sufficient permanence to offer reasonable assurance that the congregation is not being dismissed to de facto independence.
Failure on the part of the presbytery thoroughly to explore and adequately to document its satisfaction in these matters may thus violate, however unintentionally, the spirit of the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). "
Davis also wrote, "This is a pure regulatory move. It is not missional in design. It would take away authority from the presbyteries and establish greater authority in the higher "governing" bodies. It would have a chilling effect on congregations trying to discern where God is calling -- heightening the sense of distrust."
I was surprised by Pastor Davis's posting. The reason I was surprised: I thought that the advisory must have been posted for several weeks on PC-BiZ and instead it was only posted on May the 6th the day of our Presbytery meeting.
I had already read the Advisory and saw how it had been used since it was a part of the papers posted on our presbytery's web site a week ago. And it was used in the first report written by a mediating team concerning a church in our presbytery seeking dismissal from the PCUSA. The first two meetings with the teams from both the church and the presbytery were held on April the 9th and 11th. So I have two questions concerning these papers.
- I wonder how many other mediating teams in other presbyteries are receiving this advice from Louisville or more succinctly the Office of the General Assembly before it is even voted on by General Assembly?
- I also wonder if other mediating teams are giving out the suggestion this team did in its first report? That is, given the advisory recommendation to the Presbyteries, "We noted that these issues were the subject of a Request for interpretation from the Presbytery of Charlotte that is currently pending before the General Assembly for consideration at the June meeting, and Presbytery [Sacramento] might choose to defer making a determination with respect to those issues until the General Assembly acted on that Request."
In other words, the suggestion was being given that our Presbytery might just want to put this off until after General Assembly. As it happened mediation broke down without this ploy being used. I am not blaming our Presbytery, I am not blaming the mediating team. I am just saying it seems like Presbyteries are becoming puppets on a string being pulled by others in Louisville. That isn't connectionalism, its madness because it will simply further erode any small bit of trust left in the Church.
(It should be noted that this church asked to be dismissed to the EPC not to a transitional presbytery.)