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A minor


Friday, June 9, 2006

Parish Questions
I really enjoyed Anthony Bradley's article linked below. I'm a big believer in the church's geographical, community-oriented mission, having grown up in a genuine community church - where at one time nearly twenty member families lived in the neighborhood around the church, all within walking distance - and having been taught to appreciate the parish model by George Grant (see his lectures on Chalmers), Douglas Wilson (see Mother Kirk, pp 222-227), and James B. Jordan, among others. I recently linked our church newsletter from last month, in which Pastor Steve Wilkins wrote an article on the parish model, beginning: "The Session has determined to divide our congregation into 'parishes' for the sake of promoting community, fellowship, and service to our respective neighborhoods and communities."

Having said all of this, the parish model still raises as many questions as it answers for me. Grant, Wilson, Jordan, Wilkins, et al, suggest that congregations create sub-parishes in order to own and minister to their communities, but what if a bunch of churches in town all started doing this independent of one another? Would we really be owning and ministering to our communities through such a cacophony of parishes? (Or could the overlapping and interweaving of parishes be more like a symphony - complex but coherent?)

Bradley suggests that we adopt his stance: "As a rule, I generally attend the church in my denomination that's closest to my house NO MATTER WHAT." But what if we live in a place where there's no church in our denomination, or where there's only one and it's not in our neighborhood? Should we simply move, abandoning our neighborhood community for the one by our church? Should we help plant a(nother) church in our neighborhood? In the comments to Anthony Bradley's post, someone named Paul Stadig asked a rhetorical question that I wanted to ask in all seriousness: "Why not go to the church closest to your house regardless of denomination?"

I've come to share John Frame's distaste for denominationalism (cf. Chapter 4 of his Evangelical Reunion, "What's Really So Bad About Denominationalism?"), and I have virtually zero denominational loyalty. When I consider the geographical, community-oriented mission of the church, I sorta feel guilty about the fact that there are several churches much closer to my house than the Presbyterian (PCA) church of which I'm a member - there's a Church of Christ on the street in front of us, an Assembly of God on the street behind us, a United Methodist church and Southern Baptist church down the street a few blocks (right beside each other), a tiny little Apostolic church and an African Methodist Episcopal chapel back behind us about a mile, an Episcopal church across campus (we live by the university), and two Roman Catholic parishes within a mile or so. All of these churches are within easy walking/biking distance, but we drive 10-15 minutes to the only PCA church in town. It's the church I grew up in, and it's where my wife's family and many of our friends are - and I think it's the best place for us right now - but I still feel sorta guilty about driving past all these other churches to go to the place that's best for us.

To use Bradley's terms, why isn't going to the closest denominational church just another way of worshiping the idol of personal preference? Should I feel remorse about driving past all these other Christian churches in my neighborhood on the way to closest church in my denomination - the church that best suits my family and me? And how do we adopt a parish model that serves and anticipates a reunited citywide church (i.e. in New Testament language, "the church in Monroe")?

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