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.

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