Prospects for the New Reformed Body

January 10, 2012

General Assembly may be coming up before we know it, as I intimated yesterday, but the chartering convention of the Fellowship of Presbyterians (F.O.P.) in Orlando is imminent (next week). An interesting question came up today that I would like to address very briefly. It had to do with the intentions of the F.O.P. to form the sort of Reformed Body that can receive member churches seeking dismissal from the PCUSA.  It is safe to say that the polity framework for the F.O.P. is still “wet cement,” but given the polity document now available, do potential members have enough information to surmise the F.O.P.’s potential as a stand-alone “denomination”?

This question is an important one, because the PCUSA Book of Order refers to dismissal only to “another Reformed body.” The term is not otherwise defined. It has generally been understood to mean a member church of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (since June 2010 known as the World Communion of Reformed Churches). Both the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) hold this membership.  

What we have from the F.O.P. is a polity statement that proposes a Book of Order and promises a Rule of Discipline in the future. No Directory for Worship is in the offing, it would seem. The F.O.P. has also proposed that its members accept the current PCUSA Book of Confessions as its doctrinal foundation. If the Fellowship of Presbyterians constitutes itself as a new Reformed Body, and then invites congregations to join either as a “union” congregation or by dismissal from the PCUSA, would the practice fall in line with the requirements of the Book of Order?

I used to think that a Reformed body was defined by two aspects: its doctrine and its polity. But according to the by-laws of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, qualification for membership as a bona fide Reformed body is dependent only upon confession of doctrine:

1. Any church shall be eligible for membership: 



            1.1 Which accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; 



            1.2 Which holds the Word of God given in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the supreme authority in matters of faith and life; 



            1.3 Which acknowledges the need for the continuing reformation of the Church catholic; 



            1.4 Whose position in faith and evangelism is in general agreement with that of the historic Reformed confessions; 



            1.5 And which recognizes that the Reformed tradition is a biblical, evangelical, and doctrinal ethos, rather than any narrow and exclusive definition of faith and order. 

To bring home the point, both Congregational and Presbyterian churches can be a part of WARC/WCRC. If churches that organize themselves around a congregational form of government can be considered “Reformed,” then even the most skeptical of F.O.P. critics must acknowledge that the new Reformed body stands a chance. In light of this information, I believe the F.O.P. will qualify as a Reformed body.

The more pressing problem as I see it now is not so much whether the F.O.P. is Reformed enough, but whether the en masse departure of congregations can form it and immediately dismiss to it. Opponents of such a move would call this schism, I think. As far as I know, there is no guideline for how long the organization must exist before joining it is not viewed as schismatic. I just don’t know the answer to that question yet; if any of my readers can point me in the right direction about it, I would appreciate the input.

 

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5 Responses to “Prospects for the New Reformed Body”

  1. Mike Porter Says:

    Getting out of the PC(USA) is the right way to go, but does America need yet another denomination, Reformed or otherwise?

  2. John E Says:

    I think Mike makes a good point about the plethora of Presbyterian denominations. IMO, if a congregation wants to leave the PC(USA), there are already other Reformed options available.

    Bless you!


  3. Mary, a little correction to your piece. The PCA is not a member of the WCRC, nor were they in WARC before that body reorganized. They take part in a separate interchurch body, made up of more conservative Reformed denominations. Thus, there is a precedent already for churches in the PCUSA to be dismissed to other Reformed bodies that are not in WCRC. While the number of churches being dismissed the PCA has been rare in recent years (only a handful), the precedent is there. Thus, I have thought all along that the insistence that the NRB get recognition from the WCRC before being recognized by the PCUSA as a destination is not absolutely necessary.

    • revmary Says:

      Ack! Walter, how did I make that mistake?! I read the WARC list too quickly, and probably saw “Korean Presbyterian Church of America” as PCA. Thank you for the correction.

  4. Whit Says:

    Mary,

    I think you are splitting hairs where the ultimate result will depend on (power) politics. If the Presbytery from which churches are being dismissed agrees with the dismissal, the New Reformed Body will be found acceptable by that Presbytery – at least until GA finds a way to prevent Presbyteries from so acting. So in those places flee, flee now! before it’s too late.

    But if the Presbytery wants to hold on to the property, it won’t make any difference whether the dismissal being sought is to the NRB, the EPC or the PCA, the Presbytery will deny permission and grab the property. And so in those places, flee now as well, with or without the property, as a congregation or as individuals.

    In the end, I don’t expect a reaction from Louisville any different from the way the Episcopal Church and that awful woman Schori, reacted to the formation of the Anglican Church of North America – scorched earth and to Hell with the Kingdom.

    And I am very reluctant to designate some international body, like WARC, which I have not viewed as particularly in line with my views on many matters, with the right to input on these issues.

    I would also note that the PCUSA fails test 1.2 at the least. And I think tests 1.3, in not including “in accordance with the Word of God” and 1.5 in its reference to a loosey goosey term like “ethos,” strike me as tests I would not want to pass.

    Whit

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