Dandelion Dynamics: Is Dispersing the Worst Thing to Happen?

September 29, 2011

This week’s posts have mused ever so briefly on why it is imperative that the Presbyterian Church hang on to the idea of “essentials of Reformed faith and polity” and to know what those essentials are. The recent Synod PJC decision in Parnell et al v. San Francisco Presbytery, if applied throughout the church, would deconstruct Presbyterianism as we know it.  When the values of “mutual forbearance” and “thoughtful disagreement” are carried to their extremes, the denomination loses its grip on “the Scriptures, our only rule of faith and manners” and “the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.”  What is yet to be discovered is that peace at the expense of purity does not create unity.

Which has led me to ponder what would happen if, because of the prevailing winds of change in the PCUSA, this tribe breaks apart. Such a calamity for the PCUSA just might turn out to be catalytic for the Kingdom of God.

While studying the Beatitudes with my two classes this week, the thought has struck me rather forcefully that the troubles evangelicals are facing in the PCUSA may be setting us up for a spiritual revival. In preparation for a lecture on ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” I reflected on Christian persecution in the early church and in twentieth-century China (as only one example). According to Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity (1996), the number of Christian adherents rose from 25,000 at the end of the first century to 20 million by 300 AD and this during a time of intense Roman persecution. Such growth rates have repeated themselves in China under repressive Communism. By citing these statistics I am not intimating that the PCUSA or evangelicals within it are undergoing anything close to the life-threatening persecution of our forebears. What I am saying is that church growth is not thwarted by outside pressures, and may in fact be encouraged by such difficulties.

There is no doubt in my mind that a subtle precursor to societal persecution is creeping into the American scene. (And cases of martyrdom and persecution of Christians throughout the world is well documented by organizations such as “Voice of the Martyrs”.[1]) Conservative Presbyterians, while not overtly persecuted in the true sense of the word, are experiencing the heavy hand of local governing bodies (now councils) to keep them from leaving the denomination over issues of conscience. But what if the unthinkable happened: what if the PCUSA split into two, or worse, splintered, and church members went off on their own away from the structure of this Reformed body? Would this necessarily be bad for the Kingdom of God? The answer could be yes or no, and the question should be considered part of a “counting the cost” conversation.

If the disaffected leave the PCUSA, the denomination itself would suffer severe losses of membership, financial support, and credibility in the U.S.A. The organization would be weakened, without question. But if those conservatives who leave keep a firm grip on the essentials of the historic faith and an evangelical fervor, their untethering from the PCUSA might actually be the means for unleashing a significant missional movement. Assuming that those who leave are solid in their Christian commitment, trusting in our Savior, and obedient to the Lord’s will as revealed in Scripture, they have the potential in diaspora to plant the seeds of faith in new soil. The picture I have in my mind is the dandelion seed puff.  At just the right time, the wind comes up and those ethereal winged seeds disperse through the air and travel great distances before landing.

The whole thrust of missional ministry is to leave the church-y culture and enter one’s neighborhood culture, live out and talk about the Kingdom of God and invite people to turn their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Then, instead of requiring new believers to conform to the cultural trappings of “church,” the missional seed-planter helps them be transformed by the renewal of their minds into a new way of life where they live (Romans 12:1-2). This is the beginning of a missional community.

The idea that the last step in this process is not inviting new believers to the established church in town makes Presbyterians (and other denominations) twitchy and fearful. Denominational numbers go down. But Kingdom numbers go up, and God gets the credit for them! Then who wins? Soli  Dei gloria!

[1] See Voice of the Martyrs and Aid to the Church in Need as two examples.


6 Responses to “Dandelion Dynamics: Is Dispersing the Worst Thing to Happen?”

  1. Grandpa Brad Says:

    Who knows but what we are experiencing something of the fifth trumpet in Rev. 9 which takes us back to the OT book of Joel. The first century audience would have easily understood this part of John’s vision. The Morning Star shines brightest in the darkest of nights! Your post for today coincided with my reading of Joel this morning. History has borne witness over and over during the centuries following the Revelation to God’s unfathomable love for us that he would let us hang by the last strand of thread in a worn out rope before we turn to him. It has been the last days since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. How marvelous is our Savior’s love!

  2. William L. Goff Says:

    American culture is becoming increasingly open to the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people. Evidence just this year: the acceptance of same-sex marriage in the state of New York and the end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military. In light of this trend, I find it hard to believe that a new denomination of Presbyterians largely made up of those who resist ordination of LGBT people could thrive.
    It is difficult today to find a denomination characterized by believing that the earth is the center of the universe, that slavery is supported by the Bible, and that women are inferior to men. One hundred years from now Christians will think it strange that there were denominations in the year 2011 that resisted the full inclusion of people based solely on their gender orientation.
    – Bill Goff

  3. Jim Berkley Says:

    Bill, sorry, but that is the weakest of weak arguments. The “church” that rides the vicissitudes of popular culture in order to seek popularity will be left on the scrap heap of outdated fashions when cultural fads change–and rightfully so.

    Cultural whims come and go. The Word of God remains forever–faithful, solid, and unchanging.

    Go surf the social currents, if you will. Be conformed to this world, if you will. But the rest of us who are transformed by the will of God will work to spare God’s Church from such Godless fancies.

    –Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA

  4. Bill, I have a question for you. Which denomination that has embraced the ordination of GLBT people would be considered to be thriving? If that was a viable and godly alternative, it would be bearing fruit with rapid growth. As far as I know, every denomination that has embraced gay ordination is in rapid decline. The one untried church growth method in the oldline denominations is a return to biblical orthodoxy. I believe the first group to adopt that approach will be blessed by God exponentially.

    Mike Armistead
    Fresh Off The Moving Van in Fayetteville, NC

    • Bill Goff Says:

      Michael, The answer to your question is the Metropolitan Community Churches. The denomination began in 1968 and now has 250 member congregations in 23 countries. It’s theology is rather orthodox following the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. The Eucharist is celebrated weekly. This denomination has a specific outreach to LGBT families and communities. I know of no other denomination that has experienced such rapid and widespread growth in the last 40 years. – Bill Goff

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