In this post I want to engage with the critical comments about the Church Without Walls reports made by the Special Commission in section 8.2 of their report. (Reports to GA 2010 page 25/15)
The CWW report was received by the General Assembly in 2001, read the report here.
Deriving their criticism of CWW from the 2005 report of the Panel on Doctrine this year’s Special Commission challenges the value of CWW’s emphasis on the local congregation, suggesting that CWW presents a vision of the church which is more congregational in polity than Presbyterian.
This criticism of CWW was flawed in 2005 and remains flawed in 2010 and needs to be robustly challenged.
The key to understanding CWW is the call of Jesus, ‘Follow me’. This call is not issued to churches, but to individuals to follow Jesus in the specific, local footsteps of his journeys in Galilee and Judea and today in the journey of faith in Stranraer or Lewis, Drumchapel or Drummnadrochit. CWW tells us
That calling is local rather than general. (Reports to GA 2001, page 36/9)
Faithful discipleship requires the call of Jesus to touch ground in locations.
On the shape of the church CWW offers us this vision:
Local church is the focus of action
Regional church is the focus of support
Central church is the focus of essential servicing and national role (Reports to GA 2001, page 36/16)
This is not congregationalism (I’m shouting this as I type).
The place within our church of mission, of questions, of initiative, of vision is, or should be the local church. When we try to take this away from local church we deskill the local church which learns to expect an expert to come along with all they need. When we try to take initiative, or build vision nationally or regionally no one in any location recognises it or shares it or is enthused by it.
The regional church is the context in which support, fellowship, encouragement, sharing happens. Except it doesn’t at present, hence the great tragedy of the failure of our church to renew and reshape Presbyteries. If there is a growing congregationalism within the Church of Scotland blame should not be laid at the door of CWW, but at the broken Presbyteries which leave local congregations with little option but to ‘go it alone’.
The central church, I would now prefer the term national church, should be restricted to a limited national role, carrying out essential services to ensure equity within the church and being a point of contact for national and international partners. The bigger the national church the harder it becomes for regional or local church to function properly – we need to make the centre smaller (shouting again!) By this I don’t mean a smaller number of committees doing the same amount of work, but less work!!
This is no kind of congregationalism, this is no kind of denial of fellowship between congregations, this in no kind of denial of the catholicity of the church. If the need for change were not so urgent such naïve criticisms would not merit a response, but the need is urgent, if change does not come in a planned way it will fall upon us as a catastrophe when the black-hole-like national church becomes too dense for the rest of the church to support and it collapses in upon itself.
The CWW process is at a crucial junction here. CWW can become a resource for a limited number of congregation who find it helpful, but if that is all then CWW will have failed in it’s big, comprehensive vision for a renewed church. CWW needs to be fully implemented at the national and regional levels of the church, but this is what is being resisted.
It’s been nine years but there is still time, just a little time, for the vision of CWW to be released into the national and regional church. But if it doesn’t happen soon it will be too late.