For those of you who have been to a typical presbytery meeting, let me say “I’m sorry.” Generally speaking, presbytery meetings are the ecclesiastical equivalent of root canals – necessary but dreadful, somewhat useful but numbing to both mind and body! But note that this is the “typical” and “generally speaking” kind of presbytery meeting.
Last week, I attended my first CREC presbytery meeting in Bristol, TN. The Augustine Presbytery, composed of all the CRE churches on the East coast, gathered at a mountain retreat center for an annual meeting. It was, in short, refreshingly weird. No motions, no seconds, no time yielded “to the gentleman from Virginia,” no votes, and no ugly arguments. Weird!
This little article is written for the purpose of passing along news of our denomination and some insight gathered from the time in Bristol
News from our broader Confederation (denomination) could not be more encouraging. In just over 10 years, the CREC has gone from 3 churches in the Pacific Northwest to over 110 congregations around the world! There are over 80 congregations in the United States, 30 in Myanmar, and works in Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Bulgaria, and Japan. Additionally, the CREC has recently been contacted by a group of roughly 25 churches in several African countries, requesting membership with us.
Though not commonly understood, the CREC is home to only a few (literally) churches who have transferred in from other denominations. The overwhelming majority are formerly independent Reformed churches, and missions/church plants.
What, other than the good and kind providence of God, has brought about such growth? Well, for one, we don’t have brutal presbytery meetings. But, there are three core values of the CREC that I firmly believe have contributed to this continual and exponential growth.
1. Celebratory covenant living
On occasion, God has to correct or discipline His people, even turning them over, at times, to judgment or captivity. Generally, we assume that such discipline is the result of idolatry or gross sin by God’s people, and we would be right. But those “gross sins” aren’t always what we think.
Deuteronomy 28:47-48 says, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you.”
God doesn’t just want His people to serve Him with joy and gladness, He demands it! Part of being the people of God is being deeply grateful for the “abundance” of what He has given us. We walk through life tripping over blessings, yet spend a disproportionate amount of time in worry, frustration, complaining, and bickering.
We are God’s covenant people and we have been blessed as such. Those blessings should produce lives saturated with gratitude, praise, joy, and obedience.
The CRE was founded with these things in mind. It is a core value, and rightly so. We are to worship, eat, drink, sing, work, cook, converse, shop, play, and pump gas with joy and gladness to the Lord. Being the people of God is a life, a whole life, to be lived before a watching world that needs to see submission to the King in all of life, from the way we worship to the way we drink beer.
2. Pastoral formation not Presbyterian bureaucracy
Reformed and Presbyterian churches have always been good at bureaucracy (as if that were possible) – seminary requirements, ordination exams ad nauseam, annual forms, quarterly forms, quarterly meetings, contribution requirements. You get the idea. As a result, “Reformdom” is really good at not getting much done.
In the CRE, a great deal of the annoying and cumbersome red tape has been cut away without sacrificing the purity and integrity of the church. Churches can be planted without excessive bureaucracy. Ministers ordained by other denominations are examined with care but not sent to the Grand Inquisitor. Presbytery meetings can function as times when pastors are encouraged and challenged instead of making them tests of attention span.
3. Optimistic participation in the Great Commission
We preach, sing, and plant churches all over the world, not in an attempt to “stave off the world’s inevitable decay,” but because God has given the nations to Christ (Ps. 2); they will flow to His house (Is. 2:2-4). His enemies are being made His footstool (Acts 2:32-36) and the nations are being discipled (Matt. 28:18-20).
Being part of the CRE is, in spite of some controversies, a wonderful thing. We are finding our place as part of Christ’s larger Church, seeking to serve Him with gladness, with wisdom, and with certain hope of His victory over the world.