From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Presbyterian? You could be a redneck - and that's good, Coalition speaker says

Date 18 Jun 2002 15:53:34 -0400

Note #7260 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Presbyterian? You could be a redneck - and that's good, Coalition speaker says

by Frank Buhrman

COLUMBUS, OH - The Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to go "back to the future" and reconnect to its boisterous Scottish roots, a speaker told an appreciative audience at a June 18 breakfast sponsored by the Presbyterian Coalition.

The Rev. Vic Pentz, senior pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, also said the church needs to "return leadership to its best leaders: elders."

Pentz was the featured speaker at the event, held annually in conjunction with the PC(USA)'s General Assembly.

In arguing that stodginess is not the true heritage of Presbyterians, Pentz read from "How the Scots Invented the Modern World," a book by Arthur Herman that portrays early Presbyterians as anything but stodgy. Pentz had censor a few passages from the book, and apologized for some he did read.

Some in Pentz's audience were surprised to learn of the book's assertion that the term "redneck" originated as pejorative Scottish slang for "Presbyterians," and that many other Southern and Appalachian expressions also originated among Presbyterians.

They were the first distillers of whiskey, Pentz said, "and easy to provoke into fighting - that's part of our heritage that we've kept."

"The next time you're on a country (radio) station," he said, "that's Merle Haggard 'channeling' our Presbyterian forebears."

Pentz said early Presbyterian customs in worship may be just as surprising.

"Our true heritage is evangelical to the core," he said. "It is revivalist, and it is populist." The Scots in America were fully involved in the Great Awakening, he said, and they invented the precursor of the revival meeting.

The loss of that heritage, he said, is part of the church's problem today. If early Presbyterians were able to look down on modern Presbyterians, he said, they'd probably say, "What a bunch of wimps!"

"Going back to our forebears might be the key to success for our church," he said. "What if we became less easy to please, more feisty? What if we could bring back that 'Old Rugged Cross' of the Great Awakening, and throw out this plastic cross we've got?"

Pentz called for a return to Presbyterian roots in governance as well. In the early days, he said, Presbyterian polity was considered "divinely ordained by God," but today's church leadership more closely resembles a "clergy guild."

"The stands of our denomination, again and again, alienate the people in our churches," he said, and going "back to the future" would solve this problem as well.

"The best leaders in our churches are you elders," he said.  "The fact that I've not ruined every church I've been in is because I've had elders standing beside me. In you lies our hope for renewal.

"Let's go back and do the things we did at first. Who knows - you might find that you're a redneck!"

The Coalition honored its retired coordinating director, the Rev. Bill Giles, hailing him as its "elder statesman."

Giles recalled the 1993 founding of the group during a meeting in Montreat, NC.
"I don't think any of us believed, or felt, or even dreamed, that we would grow as we have these past 10 years," he said, "or that we would have the impact that we've had.

"I commend to you and to our church the Presbyterian Coalition," Giles said, "a very significant organization in the past, and, I believe, in the future of our church."	
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