A Return to the Presbyterian Parish System

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Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I had reason to be looking over some of the documents in the Westminster Directories and was reminded of the section on Particular Congregations in the Directory on the Form of Presbyterial Church Government.

Of Particular Congregations.

IT is lawful and expedient that there be fixed congregations, that is, a certain company of Christians to meet in one assembly ordinarily for publick worship. When believers multiply to such a number, that they cannot conveniently meet in one place, it is lawful and expedient that they should be divided into distinct and fixed congregations, for the better administration of such ordinances as belong unto them, and the discharge of mutual duties.[32]

The ordinary way of dividing Christians into distinct congregations, and most expedient for edification, is by the respective bounds of their dwellings.

First, Because they who dwell together, being bound to all kind of moral duties one to another, have the better opportunity thereby to discharge them; which moral tie is perpetual; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it.

Secondly, The communion of saints must be so ordered, as may stand with the most convenient use of the ordinances, and discharge of moral duties, without respect of persons.

Thirdly, The pastor and people must so nearly cohabit together, as that they may mutually perform their duties each to other with most conveniency.

In this company some must be set apart to bear office

I would personally be in favor of the re-establishment of such a system and it would be an improvement over the American commercial system of picking your own congregation. It is also a far more Biblical system that would definitely not find much support in the "me-centered" American church.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
The problem would come with errant 'presbyterian' congregations... If my family were in the parish of a program centered errant (liberal, opposing historical adam, theistic evolution, non-6 literal creation, FV, NPP, revelatory gifts, okay with 2nd commandment violations, non-confessional) congregation, I'm not sending my family there!
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Yes, the state of the church today, theologically speaking, doesn't lend itself well to this vision. However, I would very much want to participate in such a system. I think the best thing now is for families who reside in a major metropolitan area to attempt to move to the same neighborhood.

For example, my local congregation in the Detroit metro area has families who are separated by up to 50 miles or more (?). I am not sure if anyone even lives in Southfield! I suspect that the RP church in Los Angeles has a "catchment area" even greater.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
How can we endeavor to better accomplish this:

First, Because they who dwell together, being bound to all kind of moral duties one to another, have the better opportunity thereby to discharge them; which moral tie is perpetual; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it.
given our present situation?
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
For the sake of discussion, ponder whether the parish system serve as a safeguard against the excesses of certain pastors and/or Sessions?

For instance, like-minded errorists wouldn't be allowed to drive some distance to attend said congregation and bolster the congregational numbers of an errorist pastor (tougher to gather followers).

Sound believers who found themselves sitting under an errorist would be more prone to bring charges and pursue some correction of the situation (more likely that errorists would encounter resistance).
 
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Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I think the only way to make this work would be to have a NAPARC-wide non-compete agreement.
 

Shawn Mathis

Puritan Board Sophomore
The question is: are people mature enough to pull it off? Members would be attending closer churches that they originally rejected for various reasons. They would be forced to face those differences.

It worked in the old days because of a common culture among the Christians. And I do not mean they were all Protestants. Their expectations and attitudes were more in line with each other it seems to me. Today you can have three Reformed churches in the same denomination within driving distance of each other and meet three different cultures--different enough that families drive past the other churches to attend their own.

Also back then communities were smaller. Technology did not allow long-distance travel with the ease of today.

On the flip-side, the current "system" can still work if people are dedicated. Distance is not a problem for many families when they send their child to a good school or tutor or when they send their kids to sports and clubs or when they attend a conference with a Reformed "super-star" (this is not to deny that distance can be a problem itself such as living 50 miles from church!).

I do lean toward a parish-system though.
 

Southern Presbyterian

Puritan Board Doctor
*MODERATION*

Discussion here will be limited to the topic as outlined in the OP. No discussion of individuals or specific congregations will be permitted.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Enforcing a parish system would only have an impact in urban and suburban areas. In most rural areas, there just isn't the competition of multiple churches of a single denomination. And in urban areas, many neighborhoods (and frequently suburban) tend to be predominately of one race. So a parish system is likely to be functionally segregationist. And of course, empty nest couples who decide to downsize would be forced from their church home if they moved across an invisible line for their new residence. Or as singles marry and move to more family friendly neighborhoods, a new congregation would be issued to them.

But despite these practical concerns, I'm willing to be taught on this issue. Where is the parish system mandated in scripture?
 

Kevin

Puritan Board Doctor
Ben. I think that the parish system historically was not "mandated" or "enforced" as some suppose. Rather it was an organic system that emerged out of the realities of time & place. The realities that were deterministic, in my view, were; 1) lack of denominational diversity/state churches. 2) Limits on transportation.

At the time that the parish model was dominant everyone ate a "100 mile diet" and "shopped local" for the most part and for the same reasons that they attended the local parish. It was the only choice.

Did it have (some) advantages? Yes. You were known & you knew those in your congregation well & lived in a true community for starters. Anonymity in certain sin was nearly impossible. Discipleship was lifelong. Church discipline could not be avoided by changing churches, and so on.

It also had (some) drawbacks as well. And while thinking about them it occurs to to me that they were probably the same list as the benefits. gossip was probably endemic (and the frequency that the sin was preached against in the past seems to bear this out), certain sins would tend to be overlooked due to familiarity, etc.

He-That-Must-Not-Be-Named has written some useful essays on the subject. And one of his suggestions was that we could recapture the benefits of the parish system if every elder & deacon began to evangelize their own neighbors. In time each would become its own church plant in the neighborhood of the elder or deacon. A few generations of this would reproduce localized parishes in several parts of a city currently served by a single congregation of a particular denomination.

An other suggestion is that pastors do what you are doing and meet those people that live within the bounds of their "parish". Follow that up with neighborhood or community events that a seasonally & culturally appropriate. Provide programmes for the children of the neighborhood. Let it be known that you are available for weddings, funerals, hospital visits, etc to those that are unchurched & willing to be "on-call" for those that are members of other churches in an emergency.

Both ideas would take some work, and a long term commitment. But they get at the root of the kind of ministry that the divines seemed to have in mind, only applied to our modern context.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
It seems that the parish system is born out of a time when whole regions where dubbed as Catholic or Protestant and religion and state were fused tightly. I no longer see any possibility of it being revived since the Christendom idea is dead and more nations are moving towards a separation of church and state.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
Geographically and socially, the authors of the Directory lived in a very different situation than we do. The parish system would not work - especially here in southern California, where people think nothing of driving 50 miles, one way, to go somewhere. Even to church.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
In the Middle Ages' parish system, the church taxed all the inhabitants of the land with an obligatory tax and in some regions church attendance was mandatory, with civil and ecclesiastical penalties for failing to follow the church's rules (Barbara Tuchman's: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century). So poor peasants supported the lifestyles of the clergy (which were sometimes lavish..leading to many renewal efforts by lay-preachers throughout the 13th century) - no wonder respect for the clergy declined in places where these practices mostly occurred, such as in France. I would have learned to hate the Medieval Catholic Church as well back then.

So, good riddance to the parish system.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Insofar as the discussion goes, the idea of parish here is simply noting that people ought to be going to the Church closest to them. You do see parish Churches in America. They're called Roman Catholic Churches but that's not what we're looking for obviously. Part of the lack of a parish system reflects the mobility of Americans. It takes a bit getting used to when you talk to people even from England who don't move around much (if at all). Even their military folk will be in the same unit and region for their whole career. Here, it is not uncommon for people to be moving where jobs are or for immigration to change the landscape of cultures pretty regularly. I imagine you still find the equivalent of parishes in some parts of New England or the South or Midwest or Northwest where people don't move in and out much but not so much elsewhere. For instance, even where Roman Catholic Churches have "parishes" in some places. It hardly acts much differently than any other Church in that regard. The people may drive to their local Church but they're just as busy and disconnected from each other as any other Church where people are going out of convenience.

For us, we actually have a modicum of a parish here in NoVA with only a couple of PCA Churches in a 10 mile radius and we're the only in Stafford. Toward that end, part of our mercy ministry is surveying the needs of the surrounding community and we're very much interested in evangelizing this County in cooperation with other like-minded Churhces.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
The problem would come with errant 'presbyterian' congregations... If my family were in the parish of a program centered errant (liberal, opposing historical adam, theistic evolution, non-6 literal creation, FV, NPP, revelatory gifts, okay with 2nd commandment violations, non-confessional) congregation, I'm not sending my family there!
This.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
You do see parish Churches in America. They're called Roman Catholic Churches
As you noted, around here, very few of the Roman churches in older areas have defined geographical parishes - and even those aren't strictly enforced. In the suburbs, they try to mimic the evangelical megachurches. And, of course in most dioceses, some folks will drive quite long distances for a Latin service.
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
Geographically and socially, the authors of the Directory lived in a very different situation than we do. The parish system would not work - especially here in southern California, where people think nothing of driving 50 miles, one way, to go somewhere. Even to church.
That is outrageous, I thought driving 5 miles would be far. Luckily my church is around the corner. I never realized how far people drove to church...
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I thought driving 5 miles would be far.
A friend that ran a consulting business said that studies showed that folks would travel 20 minutes to church before distance became a factor. Greater than that, there has to be a reason for the drive.

We've had members who have driven about 100 miles one way to church each Sunday, and others who have driven over 60. Aggressive church planting has eliminated the longest commutes. Only three of the children admitted to the table this morning are more than 15 miles one way from the church.
 

seajayrice

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'd just assume take a rusty butter knife to my wrist than subject myself and family to impure preaching week in and week out
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
In the Middle Ages' parish system, the church taxed all the inhabitants of the land with an obligatory tax and in some regions church attendance was mandatory, with civil and ecclesiastical penalties for failing to follow the church's rules (Barbara Tuchman's: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century). So poor peasants supported the lifestyles of the clergy (which were sometimes lavish..leading to many renewal efforts by lay-preachers throughout the 13th century) - no wonder respect for the clergy declined in places where these practices mostly occurred, such as in France. I would have learned to hate the Medieval Catholic Church as well back then.

So, good riddance to the parish system.
We're talking about the post-Reformation parish system.

It's not dead. We shouldn't say good ideas are dead, but merely waiting for the right circumstances to be resurrected, namely a revival of biblical Christianity in a particular place.

Here in Scotland, liberal theology marred the parish system, just like anything else. But it doesn't mean that the principle isn't good, and that it didn't do a good job in better days.
 
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