Archive for the ‘PCUSA’ Category

PCUSA: Why not stay?

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

As my church struggles through an endless process of discernment, yoked to an Administrative Commission that seems dedicated to stalling and dividing us, I decided I needed a clear answer to the question “what harm is there in staying in the PCUSA?” This is what I will tell anyone who asks:

Jesus had a special warning for those who lead “these little ones astray”. Our children are watching us. The 218th General Assembly took deliberate action to discard the Bible’s clear and consistent condemnation of homosexuality. It intentionally bypassed the Book of Order and gave presbyteries permission to ordain practicing homosexuals. Our denomination has approved what the Bible condemns. By remaining a part of the PCUSA, we are leading our little ones astray.

The PCUSA is officially “neutral” on the matter of abortion, neither condoning nor condemning it. (The 217th General Assembly did approve a statement that opposes “partial-birth” abortions.) But the PCUSA has financially supported the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a lobbying organization that opposes all restrictions on abortion. It has gone to court to oppose the federal ban on partial-birth abortions. The PCUSA went so far as to give the RCRC a “partnership in mission” award. By remaining a part of the PCUSA, we too partner with the abortion advocates.

The mainline Presbyterian church has been embroiled in a clash of world views since May 1, 1922, when Harry Emerson Fosdick, a liberal Baptist preacher, gave a sermon at First Presbyterian Church in New York entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” The “fundamentalists” he opposed were Presbyterians who believed in (1) the inerrancy of the Scriptures, (2) the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus, (3) the doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God’s grace and through human faith, (4) the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and (5) the authenticity of Christ’s miracles. Fosdick rejected those doctrines and laid out the principles of modern “progressive” Christianity that continue to divide the PUCSA. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we continue to waste resources opposing an enemy we have allowed to thrive in our midst.

Throughout its history, the Presbyterian church has declared what it believes. Sometimes this declaration has been in the form of a confession such as the Scots’ Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Apostles’ Creed is a similar statement of faith. Most Presbyterian denominations – the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for example – have summarized their beliefs in a handful of “essential tenets”. In fact, the fundamentals Fosdick opposed were the essential tenets of the Presbyterian church in 1910. These “essentials” are the core, non-negotiable principles that define what it means to be a Christian. The PCUSA no longer clearly states what its bedrock beliefs are. Where nothing is declared non-negotiable, everything is negotiable. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we agree that everything is negotiable.

The Presbyterian church has always respected individual conscience. As early as 1729, the Presbyterian church in the American colonies adopted measures that protected the right of the individual to disagree with the church in some areas. However, the right to declare a conscientious objection (called a “scruple”) did not extend to the core beliefs of the Christian faith. After the 218th General Assembly, the PCUSA declared that “the scrupling of either belief or practice is now allowed.” There is no longer any standard of belief or practice that presbyteries cannot waive when a candidate for ordination declares a “scruple”. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we agree that standards are whatever a presbytery and candidate agree they are.

According the Book of Order, “ordination for the office of minister of the Word and Sacrament is an act of the whole church carried out by the presbytery, setting apart a person to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament.” When a presbytery ordains a minister contrary to Scripture, every church and every member participates in that act. When a presbytery allows the candidate to “scruple” a belief or practice, every church and every member consents to that presbytery’s decision. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we join in the ordination of ministers whose beliefs and practices are unknown to us.

Posted in PCUSA, Personal | 1 Comment »

PCUSA: Why I want out

Friday, August 29th, 2008

It seems to me that God tolerates institutional divisions in the church (otherwise known as denominations) for two possible reasons:

1. Doctrinal unity. None of us understands God’s theology. We struggle to grasp the principles that underlie his redemptive plan and our place in it, but we come to different understandings. Rather than watch us waste time endlessly debating our differences, God graciously allows us to join together with like-minded believers. This enables us to teach one another, admonish one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and grow in faith together as we believe Scripture leads us.

2. Working together. Denominations provide a way for roughly a billion Christians to subdivide into smaller and smaller groups yet remain in fellowship with a larger body. This enables us to carry out our collective mission in ways that single churches or even churches in a single community might be unable to do.

The PCUSA fails on both counts.

1. There is no doctrinal unity in the PCUSA. We have no non-negotiables (sometimes called “essential tenets”) in the PCUSA. Our denomination gags on the idea of non-negotiables because to identify them would bring about the horrors of “subscriptionism” – we might require officers of the church to “subscribe” to the beliefs that are embodied in the essentials. This, in turn, would violate the consciences of candidates who don’t hold those beliefs.

This claim, of course, is a red herring. Nobody would be required to subscribe to anything. Any candidate for any office is always free to believe anything he or she wishes. The church would simply say to some candidates, “we respect your right to hold to your beliefs and we certainly don’t want you to change them in order to get a job. We just can’t give you this job.”

In a denomination that has made individual conscience its new god, subscriptionism is the greatest heresy. Oh, wait; the PCUSA isn’t sure there is such a thing as heresy any more. OK, in the PCUSA, subscriptionism is just a Really Bad Thing.

Where there are no non-negotiables, everything is negotiable.

2. As for working together, simply consider the resources God has given us to proclaim and win souls for his kingdom that we in the PCUSA have squandered fighting over number 1. Some of us try to achieve doctrinal unity while others try to convince us that doctrinal unity doesn’t matter. Either way, we don’t work together nearly as well as we could if we had number 1.

We are, as noted by J. Gresham Machen and Parker Williamson nearly a century apart, two different faiths occupying one institution. One of those competing faiths has captured the institutional apparatus and now – proudly, vindictively, greedily, deceptively – tries to hold the other in chains. It is not altogether surprising that those who worship the god of conscience resolutely refuse to honor the consciences of those who can no longer stomach the PCUSA’s apostasy.

Before long, I will “officially” leave the PCUSA – with or without my church – because this earthly institution has departed from the body of Christ. The reality is that leaving the PCUSA is a mere formality because the PCUSA has already left me.

Posted in PCUSA, Personal | 2 Comments »

PCUSA: "Transformative power"

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Once again, the commissioners to the General Assembly of the PC(USA) have elected a moderator who is opposed to the denomination’s constitution. And once again the selection will encourage continuation of the progressives’ endless struggle to sever ordination standards from their Biblical foundations.

The new moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow is being hailed as some sort of hip, connected electronic pastor, in part because he blogs. Former moderator Rick Ufford-Chase actually set the precedent several years ago. I applaud this trend because sometimes the blogging wolves forget to don their sheep’s clothing.

U-C, for example, revealed in his blog that he doesn’t seem to know much about Jesus. According U-C, Jesus is nothing more than a “radical” solution to the suffering that exists in this world. Crucifixion? Atoning sacrifice? Fully God, fully human? Salvation? Justification? A mansion in his Father’s house? Nope. Just a temporal fix for the human physical condition.

Reyes-Chow – according to the blogosphere – seems to have an equally truncated understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. I have spent some time searching his and other blogs for R-C’s understanding of Jesus. Probably the most succinct answer I found was his response to Presbyweb’s simple question “What is the gospel?

R-C’s answer was “The gospel is the Christ-centered reality of being a presence of peace in a time of anxiety.” The heart of the gospel seems not to be found in Christ’s death and resurrection or in his deity or in reconciliation with God the Father or in salvation. No, R-C began his answer to “what is the gospel?” with Luke 8:24-25: The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

R-C – who obviously has the heart of a peacemaker – does appreciate the “transformative power of Christ.” No problem there. But he and other progressives who see in Jesus little more than an answer to today’s woes have a gaping hole in their theology. Jesus was holy and sinless. He calls us to be holy and sinless. The “transformative power of Christ” is his Holy Spirit indwelling us and enabling us to have hope for a sinless life when we trust in the Spirit to deliver us from temptation to sin.

Jesus does not empower us to live in sin. So my question to the progressives is this: If you believe in the “transformative power of Christ”, why don’t you believe that very power can deliver a homosexual person from behavior that the Bible condemns?

Never mind; I know the answer. The Bible doesn’t mean what it says; it means what progressives believe it would say if only God were as progressive as they. These folks remind me of the bumbling Nazis in the first and third Indiana Jones movies who thought they could harness God’s power (i.e. the Ark and Holy Grail, respectively) to propel their own earthly ends. Likewise, progressives like U-C and R-C seem to think they can harness the “transformative power of Christ” to bring about their social objectives.

That’s one reason the dear old PC(USA) lost more than 57,000 members last year.

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PCUSA: Business as usual

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Amid the announced departures of Washington Office Director Elenora Giddings Ivory, and Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, the renewal crowd have turned absolutely giddy. They seem to think these are signs of positive change in the PCUSA. To me, it looks like Christianity Lite continues to captivate the enterprise.

From a recent Presbyterian News Service (PNS) story, Shaking comfort zones and a few hands, on the PCUSA website:

The story from the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel about the Samaritan woman, who was a Gentile, and Jesus, a Jewish man, “gives us a signal about how we are to position ourselves if we are to do evangelism,” especially when sharing faith across cultural boundaries, Sadongei said.

Christ’s evangelism began when he put aside his own cultural understandings and assumptions, acknowledged the stranger’s presence and initiated a conversation, she said. Then an “unbelievable dialogue” flourished that eventually brought home the gospel to the Samaritan.

“Jesus and the woman were willing to risk trying something different, willing to be open to a person who was much different than them, and possibly learn something from them,” said Sadongei, a member of the Kiowa and Tohono O’odham tribes and full-time stated supply pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Phoenix.

Is Pastor Sadongei telling this story from the Samaritan woman’s point of view? Or is Sadongei herself unaware that Jesus is much more than just “a Jewish man” who was “willing to risk trying something different”. Is she seriously suggesting that before he could evangelize, Jesus had to “put aside his own cultural understandings and assumptions”, that he had to change somehow? According the story, Pastor Sadongei went on to make some very good points about how to be welcoming and loving toward strangers. But did she have to fictionalize the account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman to make her point? Could she have found no factual basis in the Bible?

Or consider the progressives’ recent discovery that evangelism is a Good Thing (Spiritual revival is key to social transformation, Wallis says). But evangelism for what purpose? It’s not what you might think, according to “progressive evangelical” Jim Wallis. [As an oxymoron, “progressive evangelical” is first rate, a shining example of the left’s use of Godspeak to cloak a decidedly humanist objective. ]

“The social transformation of the world – alleviating poverty and disease, restoring human rights and religious freedom, bringing peace overcoming prejudice – can only come through spiritual revival.” For this reason, “there are very few things as important as evangelism in the churches today”, Wallis told the National Presbyterian Evangelism Conference. Apparently evangelism is not a means of carrying out the Great Commission, but a new-fangled way of bringing about social transformation:

“Everyone knows politics is broken, is failing to address the moral issues of our time,” he said. “And history shows that when that happens, social movements rise up to change politics, and the best social movements have spiritual foundations.”

And what is the power of the current social movement that Wallis perceives? “Spiritual power is being harnessed to address the great social challenges of our time.” This statement is right out of the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why were the Nazis seeking the Ark of the Covenant? Because they (and George Lucas) saw it as a vast power source that could be harnessed for their own earthly purposes.

Do the departures of Giddings Ivory and Kirkpatrick suggest a cultural change for the PCUSA? Of course not. Neither of them created the worldly culture that has overtaken the PCUSA, they both merely reflect it. Their departures will be barely noticed as the denomination spirals downward into irrelevancy and apostasy.

Posted in Culture, PCUSA | 5 Comments »

PCUSA: The Trinity – lost in the FOG?

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

The authors of the FOG Foundations Draft 5 have some work to do on their “Core Theological Commitments”. The triune God of the Bible is MIA.

Not surprisingly (this being the PCUSA), they couldn’t seem to bring themselves to mention “God the Father”. Indeed, the word “father” appears only twice in this theological “core”, both in scripture passages that do not name God so much as refer to him:

Thankfully, they didn’t choose a politically correct, gender-sanitized paraphrase, or even those references wouldn’t appear.

In section 1.01 God’s Activity, this inability (or unwillingness) to deal with the essential relationship between God the Father and God the Son leads to a bit of uncertainty about the Trinity itself, described in Jim Berkley’s blog. As he noted, Jesus (section 1.0102) and the Holy Spirit (1.0103) seem to be separate entities, apart from God (1.0101).

The confusion is evident in the statement that the God of section 1.0101 (not the Jesus of section 1.0102) created the heavens and the earth. The New Testament teaches that the Jesus of section 1.0102 was the member of the Trinity who did the creating described in the Old Testament: “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth”. (Colossians 1:16). So who is the God of section 1.0101?

Berkley offers the opinion that section 1.01 presents – not a Reformed understanding of the Trinity – but the heresy of Modalism. Modalism would answer the question this way: The Old Testament manifestation of God (1.0101) created the universe. Later, this same single person (not a member of the Trinity) manifested himself as Jesus Christ (1.0102) and was credited by Paul for the creation he accomplished in his earlier manifestation.

Further, the writers don’t seem to know – or be willing to proclaim – some important truths about Jesus. For example, section 1.0102 Jesus Christ creates the impression that he did not exist before his incarnation in human form. Nor does it mention that he is the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. Both of these lapses point to Modalism.

As Berkley observed, this is not a good start. It could be that the committee hurried over the theological foundation in order to get on with the fun business of writing a new constitution – and meeting an absurd deadline. A lot more is liable to be lost in the rush to have a new FOG ready for the next GA 19 short months from now.

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PCUSA: Chains and things

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

These chains that bind me
I can’t lose, I can’t lose these chains and things

These lyrics by blues great B.B. King and Dave Clark popped into my mind as I thought about what might bind a congregation to the PCUSA. Despite all the huffing and puffing by the TTF, I can find nothing biblical standing in the way of a local church that discerns unbelief permeating the denomination and chooses to no longer be yoked together with unbelievers.

So why would a Bible-believing church stay? There are lots of reasons, of course – “love” of the PCUSA, inertia, indifference, fear, ignorance and no doubt others. Most powerful, I think, are these chains and things.


Our chains are good principles gone bad, essential characteristics of our denomination that once ennobled us but have now been corrupted: connectionalism and unity.


The purported “connection” among members of the PCUSA – once based on shared belief – has become nothing but a constitutional artifact, mere words of men to which we assented years ago. Whatever doctrine, whatever essential tenets, whatever Reformed distinctives that once joined us have all been eroded and washed away.

Decades of humanism have slowly pushed the PCUSA right off its biblical and confessional foundation. In the face of such complete polarization and widespread abandonment of shared faith, any claim of meaningful connectedness is just hollow rhetoric.


The PUP report’s brand of “unity”, masquerading as oneness in Christ, is simply membership in a particular organization. Similar unity exists among Elks, UAW members, and the Flat Earth Society. It is the false invocation of Christian unity that allowed the TTF make this preposterous threat:

Christians cannot even entertain the notion of severing their ties with sisters and brothers in Christ without also placing themselves in severe jeopardy of being severed from Christ himself. (page 4)

This is theological baloney, of course, having no other purpose than to bolster the self-serving claim that to depart the PCUSA is to depart the Body of Christ. It seeks only to bind us with chains, not to unite us in a common identity in Christ.


The most pervasive thing binding us is property. It binds us through an obsolete and baseless trust clause. The trust clause is obsolete because the connections that once sustained it have long since been severed. It is baseless because the unity of shared faith and mission that once justified it is shattered. Is it even a “trust” clause in any meaningful sense of the word? Not if we examine the meaning of “trust”:

The second, legal definition derives from the presence of a relationship based on the first meaning. But does such a relationship exist throughout the PCUSA? Obviously not:

The connections are broken; unity is a ruse; the trust is gone. All that remains is a legal provision that the Stated Clerk and his minions want desperately to apply in civil courts.

Should a departing church contest the denomination’s claim? Yes, unequivocally. Our buildings, for the most part, are the product of faithful Christians who brought their tithes and offerings, their time and effort, their gifts and talents to serve God. They were not directed by the Bible or by the Holy Spirit to bring them to enrich the PCUSA.

No, they brought them to enrich God’s kingdom on earth by facilitating Christ’s mission on earth. A church, convinced that the PCUSA has turned away from God’s kingdom and Christ’s mission, should not easily surrender the product of such faith and obedience. Members of such a church should not consider themselves bound by a clause that has lost its ethical and theological base.

Despite the Stated Clerk’s overbearing efforts to inject himself into the process, the dispute is between a departing church and the presbytery. In my mind, the only question is, how should a church engage the presbytery?

Toby Brown offers some wise insight into this question. There are two playbooks, he writes, that might be used, the Mammon playbook and the Jesus playbook. It seems to me the Stated Clerk has picked the Mammon playbook. As Peggy Hedden so aptly described it, what’s missing from Kirkpatrick’s playbook is “something of Jesus Christ”.

A departing church should assume that the presbytery is more interested in serving Jesus than Mammon and follow the Jesus playbook. If the presbytery decides to follow the Stated Clerk’s example and play by Mammon’s book, the church can justly and – righteously – oppose Mammon in whatever venue his servants choose.

Ultimately, of course, a departing church should be like Jesus, prepared and willing to lose. The chains – connectionalism and unity – are just an illusion; they no longer bind us. Our commitment to serve Jesus in whatever place he calls us – our building, a high school gym, a parking lot, will free us from our things.

That’s how we can lose these chains and things.

Posted in PCUSA | 2 Comments »

PCUSA Realty Inc. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Broker

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Is the Stated Clerk secretly studying for his real estate brokerage license?

In a story on the ACSWP meeting, James Berkley of the IRD mentioned seeing an advance copy of the Stated Clerk’s annual questionnaire to clerks of session:

The questionnaire probes extensively into financial matters, such as detailed questions about loans, investments, plans to expand or renovate facilities, bequests, and value of planned giving receipts and gifts from estates. Thirteen of the fifteen questions deal with such matters.

Berkley observed dryly that “it just seems a little worrisome to have the Stated Clerk so very interested in the specifics of congregational assets”. Worrisome, yes. Surprising, hardly. This Stated Clerk seems to have focused on little but property lately. Consider:

It’s hard not to come to an unwelcome and disturbing conclusion: Given the train wreck the PCUSA has been on his watch, this greedy approach to “connectionalism” might be easily understood. Kirkpatrick has a cushy job with a six-figure salary to protect. He journeys to far-flung destinations to schmooze with his left-wing political allies in the WCC and WARC.

Yet he is faced with falling membership and income and the concomitant shrinking budget. Per capita income this year is showing the effect. The total from the presbyteries’ per capita is short $430,000. The per capita amount is already scheduled to go up next year. But will that produce an increase in the amount of cash flowing into Louisville’s depleted coffers?

Some churches are simply leaving; more churches will withhold or redirect their per capita payments; defiant presbyteries may remit even less of what they have available. An increase in the per capita amount demanded may yield a higher budget total, but the actual income will probably shrink even more. What to do?

Is this aggressive pursuit of property Kirkpatrick’s way of salvaging some of the tribute the presbyteries are compelled to pay to Louisville? Does he figure that income from seizing and liquidating the assets of departing congregations would make it easier for him to squeeze the presbyteries? Is he planning to go into the real estate business?

It seems like it would be an attractive solution. He could save his PCUSA salary and perks and draw a commission on every sale of church property. And all the while, the number of annoying members calling for orthodoxy, fidelity to Scripture, commitment to the BOO, and relief from political correctness and cultural accommodation would diminish.

Such a deal.

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