What Do PC(USA) Folks Mean When We Say, PC(USA) is a “Connectional” Church?

Screenshot 2015-04-13 at 11.14.13 AMOne of the words that gets used a lot in PC(USA) circles is “connectionism.”

  • Unlike other denominations, the PC(USA) is a “connectional” denomination.
  • We do things in this way because we value being a “connectional” church.
  • We don’t do things like that because we value being a “connectional” church.
  • One of our strengths as a denomination is that we are a “connectional” church.

When I hear phrases like that, I can’t help but wonder, “What do we mean by that? What does it mean to be a connectional church?”

If, by connectional, we mean things like:

  • That we are a church united by our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the church
  • That we are a church that values discerning God’s call together
  • That we are a church that covenants to work and abide with one another as we pursue the mission of Jesus Christ
  • That we are a church that agrees to disagree

If that’s what we mean by being “connectional”, how is this a particularly PC(USA) thing? This can apply to our relationship with any Christ affirming church or denomination.

What it is about the way that PC(USA) does “connectional” church that is unique and different for the PC(USA)? How is the way PC(USA) folks and congregations are connected that is different than how PC(USA) folks and congregations are connected to other Christians and other denominations?

The reason why I am phrasing the question this way is because I think this is the way “connectional” often gets used in PC(USA) circles.

What is it in the PC(USA) that binds us, that connects us, that makes us connected together?

I don’t think it’s the confessions – while we place high value on the confessions, when’s the last time we have disciplined one another over confessional matters?While we do not name or define the essential elements of the reformed faith (i.e. the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, no other pathways to God apart from Jesus Christ), when we know of colleagues who cannot affirm Jesus, not only as Lord, but as a real person who lived, died, and rose again from the dead and they hold ordained office in the life of the PC(USA), or how can we say that confessions are the glue that binds us in the PC(USA)?

If not the confessions, then what is “connecting” us? What is PC(USA) connectionalism?

It’s polity. It’s the way we have chosen to govern and be governed.

We ought to name that. There is no shame in claiming that.

We can debate if this is a valid reason to be connected, but we need not hide nor be embarrassed to claim that our particular polity is what we mean by being a connectional church that is unique to PC(USA).

There are many reasons why the PC(USA) and denominations like her find herself in such a quandary today is because there are some who are choosing to say, “We no longer want to be governed in this way anymore.”

Our polity assumes continuity. Our polity assumes that those who at one time agreed to govern and be governed in a particular way would continue to do so. That’s been the case for generations. It was never even a question that Presbyterians would function in a “Presbyterian” way.

Recently, we’ve seen more congregations and people who are choosing, or sensing that they cannot in good conscience continue to govern and be governed in the way of the past.

Neither our polity nor our ecclesiology has clear answers for how to handle our recent situations where congregations and brothers and sisters, who at one time agreed to our polity, are choosing not to be governed by that polity anymore.

And that is one of the reasons why I think we find ourselves in such a denominational flux.

What is the connectionalism we PC(USA) folks are talking about when we say that we are a connectional church? We are referring to our polity – how we agree to govern and be governed.

Let’s name that.

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