We live in a particularly frustrating time for mainline denominations—for all denominations. The existing institutions are in rapid decline, and most people looking for a church today find the denominational connection to be irrelevant. As I look to the future, though, I can imagine some very good things.
First, and the best, would be the renewal of the PCUSA. If we refocused on a Biblical theology and doing what the church uniquely can do, we’d flourish. This is still a possibility for which I pray daily.
Benefits of Denominations
Second, we may well join another Presbyterian denomination, of which there are many in the USA. I believe that a denominational structure is important on several levels. First, it provides a system of accountability for pastors and congregations. There are numerous horror stories of independent churches and pastors that have gone far astray theologically and morally without such accountability.
Another benefit of denominations is the cooperative mission that we can do. If we have theological harmony, we will have a common purpose in mission. I think that this will bring powerful focus to congregations and build up a connectivity that is not based strictly on legal issues.
New Church Development
Denominations also can provide a fertile base for building up new congregations. Presbyterian/Reformed theology is what I believe our culture needs, with its emphasis on God’s sovereignty, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the power of teaching the clear meaning of Scripture.
The best way to expand our teaching is through starting new churches. Presbyterians generally have a poor record of new church starts. The last new churches founded in Eastern Oklahoma were in 1982. Four churches started then, three are still here today. Of those three, only one shows signs of healthy growth.
I believe that our own church could start several new ones in the next ten years. If we are part of a denomination that really believes in new church development, and helps larger congregations make that happen, this could be a major part of our mission outreach.
Greater Spiritual Focus
While I believe that denominations should have an impact on our culture, I believe this comes more from teaching our faith than from political influence. All the mainline denominations have invested great time, effort, and money in trying to move our country on highly politicized issues. Commissioners to General Assembly (as I know from personal experience) have to read hundreds of pages of background information for voting on issues like the reunification of the two Koreas, or labor/management issues in targeted industries.
While these are important issues, I don't believe that denominations are the best entities to address them. The Church has a unique mission--to spread the news of Jesus Christ. When people come to know Him, and to know the Word, it will appropriately affect how they live in and influence the world. I would rather have a dozen faithful, equipped people engaged in their world on a daily basis than a majority vote of the GA favoring my favorite political issue.
Finally, if congregations and pastors no longer have the tensions of political and theological infighting, we can go about the work to which we were originally called. I have a limited numbers of years left in ministry. My first three decades have been in the midst of frustrations with a denomination without a solid core of beliefs and standards. I deeply desire to have whatever time is left for me be a time of denominational cooperation and growth.
I don’t ever expect to be in a denomination where there is complete agreement. But I do want to be in one that knows what it believes, and graciously holds to it. One way or another, I expect that we will arrive there.