The MCC Report: What Limits to Our Freedom?

March 29, 2012

Over the last week, I have been reviewing elements and concepts embedded in the recommendations and rationale of the Commission on Mid-Councils Report. As a conversation starter, the Report is excellent and the Commission is to be commended for the thoroughness of its process and product. Not every topic therein has been addressed here. Upon reflection, some sections of the Report do not ring as true or indispensible to me as others. And there is still a matter of interpreting one particular sentence, the seventh of eight “guiding principles.” found on page 81. My inquiry of the MCC moderator as to its intended meaning was not answered, so that means I like every other reader must interpret it and discern whether such an assumption undergirding the report is a good thing.  It reads:

This report continues, builds upon and lives into the decisions made by the church to accept a new Form of Government and place the discernment of fitness for ordination on local churches and presbyteries. Our proposal is a next step in a trajectory that we believe will result in further collaborative creativity by the whole church in every context.

The Report does indeed contain elements that are continuous with the new Form of Government. I dispute whether the church has yet decided that ordination decisions are solely at the discretion of presbyteries and congregations, an idea still in beta until the GAPJC issues its final ruling in the Parnell v San Francisco case (around May 1st, after an April 27 hearing). If that premature assumption is confirmed, then the trajectory for our denomination is toward a disconnected local option in the area of leadership development.

This dismantling of “connectionalism” as a Presbyterian value embedded in our foundational statements is a fallen domino sure to cause an entire string of values to fall also. If leaders across the church are raised up based on “local” values in theology and practice, our vows lose their meaning, since from them an ordinand would presumably be authorized to depart according to his or her conscience. If our vows lose their meaning, so do the things affirmed therein: the Word of God, the lordship of Christ, our church’s polity, collegial work, not to mention our witness to the world. This is hardly a trajectory to result in further collaborative creativity; “creativity” maybe, if one means the fabrication of something totally new and disconnected from our biblical roots and Reformed tradition. But no longer “collaborative,” because people will be entertaining mutually exclusive decisions at a very practical level that make working together impossible. Since the sentence reads “in every context,” one can only conclude that this is a blank check offered to the church. To this I say, Nothing good can come out of freedom without limits. Adam and Eve taught us that much.

As an undergirding principle upon which the Report is based (with seven others), I can only mourn that a lot of good work here will be wasted if, in fact, presbyteries can do what they see fit without robust accountability to the whole church. If there is one lesson from the book of Judges, it is this: “everybody did what was right in their own eyes” led to chaos and disintegration, not to the unity of God’s people. And to me, this is the great flaw of the MCC Report. It extols the virtues of creativity, flattened structures, and missional attitude; but it does not tie all this to the Rock, Jesus Christ, and his revealed will in the Scriptures. The result, as we know from Scripture and history, is something that falls apart, not something that holds together. Some believe that this “falling apart” is either good or inevitable, and the tipping point may have already occurred for this to happen. But the result will not be recognizable as “Presbyterian,” (constitutional, confessional, and connectional), and that causes me to weep.

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One Response to “The MCC Report: What Limits to Our Freedom?”

  1. Steve Wright Says:

    Rather than turning to the book of Judges, why not consider the possiblity that what we’re facing is more like Acts 15? The church was deeply divided in that moment and yet together they discerned the leading of the Spirit which allowed the gospel of Jesus to flourish far and wide. Who knows, maybe in beauty of God’s plan we Presbyterians were born for such a time as this.

    I appreciate your faithful reflections on the MCC report and will continue to read with interest. Personally, I found the report as challenging as it was thrilling. Your words are helpful especially in relation to the challenges. Thanks!

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