The New Wineskins Initiative (NWI) is one of those “rewewal” projects that is questioning whether to leave the Presbyterian Church. They claim, as of this week, 121 “endorsing” congregations, representing some 65,000 church members. Information about the NWI is available at http://www.newwineconvo.com/, and what it takes to become an endorsing congregation is session approval of their formulation of essential reformed tenets, a declaration of ethical imperatives, and a draft vision statement.
Pastor Lance is liveblogging the NWI meeting in Tulsa. (So far, day one, day two, day three, and day four) Its important reading, particularly for those of us who resist what the NWI is trying to do. Note what Gangon is reported to have presented, and what the projected agenda is for NWI over the near term. (FWIW, I find myself able to agree with much of their ostensible list of reformed essentials, if that matters to you, noble reader, but I am certain that the ethical imperatives are not logically derived from those essentials, and I’m still strongly against what an essentials list represents).
Something in particular intrigued me. Note this comment, so common in the trope that the renewal groups continue to outline:
The remainder of the morning and first half of the afternoon were on “networking.” The backbone of the NWI is going to be networks. We met in regional gatherings to set the foundations for the formation of those networks. I was in the Washington/Oregon group. My sense I that EVERYONE there was ready to leave the PCUSA (if certain/different situations could be achieved). Several churches are having a hard time keeping members since the approval of the PUP report. A formalized Washington network could be established as soon as noon tomorrow. (Emphasis Added)
We’ve not had anyone leave my church because of the approval PUP report. We’ve not had anyone threaten to leave because of it. I don’t think that this is a major problem, frankly. But the idea that our denomination’s perceived liberalism, which as Gangon sees it (according to Lance) fails the worldwide communion of Christ, is causing people to leave in scores doesn’t seem right. The people who care about that have already gone to the conservative churches, and the denomination continues to decline.
Its more likely that we fighting cultural forces that make the practice of faith hard, we aren’t providing creative ways to feed the hunger that so many people have (by meaningful mission, communal, and worship opportunities for people who are too busy, too tired, too addicted-to-media, too disconnected from neighbor), and we aren’t making a strong enough apology for how to exercise authentic christian faith in a pluralistic world (one which, I’d argue, requires some deference for others’ faith traditions; we have much to learn from other minority religious groups in America on this score–whether Jewish or Muslim or Catholic). Churches who do that–liberal or conservative–are growing. Many more, liberal or conservative, are not.
I think this is why I’m intrigued by the emergent communities which are popping up, since I think they are focusing on these things. I’m struggling with some of their theological emphases, and their answers might not be right, or not the only good answers out there, but the focus on mission and the needs of 21st century believers is quite helpful.
…Turns out that NPH is thinking about these things too. His thoughts over on his blog.
…Meanwhile, worth pondering about our “denominational decline” is Peter Wagner’s observation over at brokenbonds loosedchains.