Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Office Wars

For those who might not have seen it...

Friday, April 24, 2009


Ok, some more thoughts on church unity.

I'm not familiar enough with other general strands of protestantism to know how prevalent (or not) this is, but there seems to be a strong tendency in Presbyterianism to divide. I point you to a diagram of Presbyterian splits and merges just in the United States.

Does anyone really think that diagram looks like unity? Looks more like spaghetti to me.

I won't claim to know or understand what all the reasons were for the splits and recombinations. I know the PCA and OPC split off from their respective branches over doctrine. The Civil War was also a factor in that diagram. You can see that we also carried over some differences from homelands. At any rate, this splitting results in what I have seen called "micro-denominations." I haven't seen a definition for that term (though doing a Google search on it was interesting) but it certainly implies a small denomination that holds certain distinctives very dear. I would say there are a few in NAPARC.

Of course, this is something of a matter of perspective. Any Christian denomination in, say, the Middle East would likely be a micro-denomination. And let me be clear, I believe it is one thing for a family to decide where to go to church and a very different thing for a church to decide what denomination they will be a part of. I'm talking about the latter decision.

My main point is to wonder why a micro-denomination (at least of Presbyterians) would exist in the United States. We have Presbyterian denominations of decent size from liberal to conservative and on many other dimensions. Besides those in NAPARC, there is the mainline PCUSA, the Cumberland Presbyterians, and the EPC. A church has lots of choices already - why pick (or start) a tiny one? I suppose I would particularly wonder that in light of the Church being called to unity. It also seems a huge practical expense to maintain a denominational structure when you are tiny. Do you have a educational materials office or just use another denomination's materials? How do you have presbytery meetings when pastors are spread over hundreds of miles across multiple states? Do you develop your own set of polices from scratch?

I think a denomination's very existence says: "we are correct and everyone else is wrong on this slate of important issues/doctrines/practices." And those micro-denominations hold some thing or things very dear that simply do not overlap with other, larger bodies. If a church is convinced that certain things are non-negotiable, that there is no debate to be had on them, then I'll admit, I don't see much choice for them. If you are convinced from scripture that you are to hold worship services on Sunday morning from day break to noon and everyone is supposed to stand the whole time (see Nehemiah 8), then I can see a church having a problem with a denomination that doesn't support that requirement. But then, surely you have to wonder if you're the tiny minority, are you the faithful Remnant pursuing holiness before God, or are you wrong and sinfully hurting the unity of the body?

That's not a bad question to ask about any denomination as long as such entities exist. The PCA, or all of NAPARC put together wouldn't do wrong to ask which one we are. Perhaps I feel insulated from the question because I perceive the PCA as big (and compared to some they are). However, compared to 1 billion Catholics, 300,000 PCA members is rather tiny.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Family Pictures

We went to a Clemson friend's wedding recently that was held at Pretty Place. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful, worshipful wedding. And, we got to take some family pictures while there.

My favorite people:

This family picture turned out quite well. Lydia was slightly shy and cute. Stephen was slightly smirking and holding a stick. A very accurate portrayal.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cute Lydia

That last post was mostly about Stephen, so this one is about Lydia. Here's some random pictures that will likely embarrass her in about 12-15 years.

Lydia likes to get her pink seat and push it close to her keyboard and play music. She sometimes doesn't judge the distance well (either way)

Stephen took this picture in one of his random picture-taking moods, and I thought it was a nice close-up of her (and is better than a crooked picture of a lamp).

It is our tradition that I make pancakes or waffles for breakfast on Saturday morning. Lydia likes my blueberry pancakes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt

Stephen's school had an Easter Egg hunt. That was this past Thursday and I took the day off (mostly to get tires on my car and get the lawnmower fixed), which allowed me to go and take pictures. Everyone in Stephen's Pre-K class was able to go, no matter what days they normally went, so they were a good crowd. Everyone got to take 11 eggs home and they were all filled with goodies. They were all to line up at the fence and then file in the playground in an orderly manner. Ha! Stephen managed to snake through the line when they opened the gate. Ah well. At least we were careful to keep them all to 11 eggs.

Here's the group (Stephen is in about the middle in the green shirt)

Stephen with his basket full of his eggs - and a big grin on his face

Stephen and Patrick went through their stash immediately and compared notes. Stephen got one "dinosaur" egg more than Patrick, and Patrick got one more "clear" (semi-transparent) egg than Stephen. They seemed to think this worked out.

Some of the girls played with Lydia too, so a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Pictures

After church, we had a great dinner at home. We pulled out the fine china since we think Stephen is ready to handle that - and it helps make the day special.

Stephen had a great time with our fancy lunch

Lydia also got a salad plate - and seemed suspicious (probably about her brother)

Daddy and the kids

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Some friends of ours found tadpoles in their pond and gave us a jar with a few of them. Stephen really liked having them around and it was fun to talk about how they grow and develop.

Kristy found out that tadpoles eat boiled lettuce, so she made some and we fed them. They seemed fairly happy and were starting to grow their legs. However, the jar was getting cloudy and rather than figure out how to change their water, we decided to release them into the pond at the local park.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dying Eggs

We just got done dying our Easter eggs. Kristy had us try something different and it worked quite well. She punched out dots and cut strips from mailing labels and stuck them on the eggs before we dyed them. It turned out quite well! I like the polka-dot one myself.

Stephen was a big help this time.

Stephen helping dip an egg.

Stephen mostly paid attention. Amazingly, no dye was spilled in the making of these eggs.

Kristy made letters, one for each of us (D = Daddy and M = Mommy). The Cross one is for Easter, of course. Stephen added the stickers.

Stephen is very proud of his own "S" egg.

Finally - Family Pictures - Snow!

Enough of my babbling posts...back to some family pictures!

We've been highly negligent in this department - partly because our camera battery was dead and we kept forgetting to get a new one. Anyway, these are from the mid-January snow (not the one earlier this week).

Sledding with Lydia (who really liked it)

Stephen being silly

Sledding with Stephen (who really liked it)

Our snowmen

Cute Lydia

Monday, April 06, 2009

On Reformed Presbyterian Unity

In my last "unity" related post, I alluded to NAPARC and the lack of unity among highly compatible conservative, reformed, presbyterian denominations.

I get discouraged when I see that, for example, the PCA and OPC have considered merging in the past and have failed to do so for whatever reason. What divides those two so much that we can't make one denomination?

Though not seminary trained in ecclesiology, I do know something about systems engineering, so I will think along those lines. What things need to be worked out for denominations to get together? I'll refer to examples regarding a hypothetical merge between the PCA and ARP denominations because I'm most familiar with those.

1. Doctrine
I'll put this first, since if you don't agree there, you're in trouble from the start. But it's not just if you both agree that you're "reformed." Do you both use the same creedal statements? Is one group's copy of the Westminster Confession amended from the original? How do they differ? What do you do if one group uses Westminster and another uses the 3 Forms of Unity? Pick one of those or use all of them? Or perhaps the Reformed world needs to gather and write a new confession?

I don't think there is a difference between the PCA and ARP in the version of the WCF they use, but there are doctrinal stances that do clash. The ARP allows female deacons where the PCA does not.

2. Government and Polity
How would the new church function? Are the policies generally compatible? Does the united denomination just use the policies of the larger denomination that merged?

I can't speak for specific differences, but the PCA/ARP situation is interesting. the PCA would be the much larger denomination, so that is an argument to use its policy. However, the ARP is a few hundred years old, with policies that have been well hashed out over that time which is a good argument for using that version. I would think some committee would have to be raised to merge the two.

3. Presbytery Boundaries
Whose boundaries do you use? Inevitably, churches that were previously in the same presbytery will be in different ones somewhere.

4. Denominational Agencies
Here again, denominations will have a curriculum publishing agency, misisons agency, etc., complete with staff, resources, equipment, etc. How is that brought together? I could see denominations merging and slowly consolidating those over time. Of more difficulty would be...

5. Colleges, conference grounds, etc.
...agencies that include a significant property and institutional investment. How would that be brought together?

The PCA and ARP both operate conference grounds in western North Carolina. They both have small, liberal arts colleges. They both have a seminary. Do they keep them all going or consider closing one to consolidate? I don't know many organizations interested in buying a college campus, though.

6. Culture
This is perhaps the least visible, but it is important nevertheless. Though denominations are essentially made up of individual churches, they have an overall bent or flavor. Perhaps they were founded out of some issue that they still really care about. Perhaps they've acquired a reputation over the years (hopefully for something good) and have fostered that. At the least, the two denominations need to be aware of this.

The ARP has a very strong identity. People go from cradle to grave in that denomination and have done so for a long time. There are strong shared experiences like Erskine, Bonclarken, and the Appalachia mission trip. The denomination really can feel like a big family. The PCA is new (relatively), has had numerous internal fights, has an urban focus, and has influence beyond its numbers in campus ministry and modern worship music. How do these two get together? How do you forge a common culture out of that so that churches and individuals don't continue to identify as a former ARP or PCA congregation but as a part of the new denomination.

Well, those are my uninformed thoughts. I recently found this book online by John Frame that seems to overlap with my questions, so I will read that and post if it provokes further thought.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

On Church Unity - Part 2

My friend Brian posted a response to my last blog item. This is a follow-up to that and my previous post.

I hear him - I am glad there is somewhere for me to go that aligns with my convictions. And I also hear him that there's a home for particular types/groups of people.

But, that doesn't look like unity to me.

I think my problem is that at least one of us is wrong. Perhaps about sola scriptura, perhaps about justification, perhaps about the structure of church government. And, of course, neither of us thinks we're wrong (or at least we're convinced that even if we might be partly wrong, the other is wrong-er). In matters of theology, we must strive to be right, to be as accurate as we can be and pursue the truth. After all, we worship the God who is Himself Truth. However, we clearly don't agree on what IS right in terms of Christian theology.

Now, the Church has never truly been utterly united. We see the church divided in the book of Acts over whether gentiles should be allowed in without becoming jews first. We see the church of Corinth having multiple factions and in our day probably would have split already. The Church is made up of human beings after all. But, it gives me hope that the church council in Jerusalem in fact did resolve that argument and (apparently) everyone submitted to it.

However, now that groups of Christians are so broken apart and have divergent beliefs about core issues (church government, justification, scripture, etc.), it is hard for me to see how they could be reconciled. Even in the world of relatively conservative, reformed, presbyterian denominations, there is disunity. NAPARC is an organization made of such denominations, and one of its stated goals is to promote "organic unity" among such denominations. Their minutes are a bit vague, but it seems much of their time is spent praying for each other and deciding who is and who is not in NAPARC. Those are important things, but looking through their minutes I don't see much in the way of dealing with questions like "how can denominations X and Y merge into one?" or "how do we merge denominations where one uses the 3 Forms of Unity and the other holds to the Westminster Confession?" Maybe "organic unity" doesn't mean encouraging denominations to merge.