A few years ago, when I was teaching confirmation at the PC(USA) Presbyterian Church of which I was a member, I was showing a video about church polity and governance from the RE:form curriculum. The video was done in an intentionally kitschy old-school style of animation with the voice over imitation a 50’s instructional video. In the video, the congregation is in the church sanctuary, voting on a resolution that was disputed. Since the process was democratic, it should have solved the dispute and brought the congregation back in alignment. In reality, the video showed, the vote takes place and then the slightly less than half who lost the vote just leave to go to another church.
The message of the video seemed so pessimistic. I had to wonder why we were showing the students this video. Maybe it was realistic, but how did it contribute to a positive view of church polity? What kid was going to be enthusiastic about participating in such a process? This question is important, because after being confirmed, the confirmands can then participate in church governance.
It seems we are reinforcing the schismatic nature of the Protestant church in these sorts of lessons. If you don’t like the outcome of a disagreement with your church brothers and sisters, just pack up and leave. It’s a temptation that all of us face when difficulties arise, just to walk out and not look back. In his book, You Are Not Your Own, Alan Noble writes about how you shouldn’t leave your home church, “without much fear and trembling.” If everyone took that advice, we wouldn’t have thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations. Unfortunately, that’s where we stand, the Christian Church more divided than any time in history, and on the path to becoming still more divided.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
I want to experience a Christianity that doesn’t crack at every fault line.