There has been a great deal of discussion among Reformed and Presbyterians of late about the lack of unity and connectedness among us. Those discussions on the liberal side (PCUSA) have centered around cultural and doctrinal disputes, while those on the more conservative side (OPC, PCA, CRC) have seemed to center around the degree to which we take our doctrinal statements seriously. The CRC has managed to escape these public debates, at least so far, but the matter of whether we are vitally connected to each other is a concern to all of us as we see a fragmented world around us.
Having observed the PCUS during my youth, ministered in the PCA from 1973-96, in the CRC from 1996 until retirement in 2008, and presently supplying a PCA congregation since 2009, I bring a rather unique perspective to this topic. There was a time I felt that if we got our theology right, we would be one happy and united family. But I have come to see just how wrong that position is. I now see the problem of our lack of unity and connectedness being multi-faceted. I begin with the less pertinent causes and move to the more so:
The electronic bubble people live in today contributes.
- The drift away from all institutions of society, the organized church being just one of those.
- The trend in the last fifty years toward mega church ministry and the independent church movement. All of us who minister have been affected by these monumental movements either directly or in some of our thinking: when the First Church of New York City springs up two miles away, Po Dunk Holler Church immediately does some rethinking.
- The ever-increasing lack of biblical content and understanding the average believer possesses. This makes building any theological understanding almost impossible.
- Our bent to desiring a buffet of choices in positions for everything instead of choosing clear and concise positions. We do that so we will not offend others, and no doubt, we need to be afraid of being too narrow, but in a world gone wild, I really don't think that is our great danger.
- Our tendency to erect personal fiefdoms instead of being kingdom builders for God. We all want to rule and control our own puddle of influence, our local congregation, so we almost totally ignore the ocean of congregations around us that we confess as our denomination and universal church.
- Our fallen tendency to compare and compete with our fellow servants in ministry and our sister congregations. Even our Lord's twelve disciples were rebuked several times for their arguments about who would be first in the coming kingdom of God. We hold petty jealousies and rivalries and compete with each other to see whose ministry can outshine the other, whose church is the biggest and best. Such attitudes and actions do not lend themselves to mutually (1) loving, (2) serving, and actually being (3) connected to each other and the functioning Body of Christ. The result is that we see other ministers (even in our own denomination) as kingdom competitors instead of joint kingdom builders. Thus we contenders in ministry and not servers.
- At the root of all this is a lack of real love for our brothers and sisters in Christ outside of the small circle with whom we are forced to have constant contact. We talk a lot about love, but love has to be shown. We who are in ministry need to do an in-depth study of the writings of the Apostle John and then actually apply what we learn in the back yards of our lives. “Love one another, for love is of God and whoever does not love, does not know God!...” etc.
- Finally, maybe there is a much more subtle but very real cause for our lack of togetherness. We just plain do not want to be together because while we call ourselves Reformed, we are really at heart and in practice closeted Congregationalists and thus very independent. There are indeed strong signs that many of us look on our denominational ties like educational institutions look at accrediting associations – necessary evils existing just to officially legitimize what we do. Beloved, this should upset us the most! When I was out of seminary only three short years, I decided to join a new movement that was coming on the scene and leave independency. In the three years I ministered outside alone I was forced to realize that we desperately need to be vitally joined to one another both for our own good and the health of the entire church. Being reared in a Baptist city and schooled at an independent university, I did not join the PCA and later the CRC to see both become loose associations of congregations that just kind of saunter along peacefully as disconnected and broken churches in a disconnected and broken world. I long for a strongly connected body and have come to see that God is not glorified by those who work as “lone wolf” pastors either officially or unofficially. Real love demands better!
“They will know we are Christians by our love!”