Nov 2nd, 2006 · Categories: PCUSA · 2 Comments

PCUSA: Chains and things

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 The trust clause is obsolete because the connections that once sustained it have long since been severed.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”:

  • “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence”
  • “a fiduciary relationship in which one person (the trustee) holds the title to property (the trust estate or trust property) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). ” (source:

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:

  • Presbyteries, not trusting the outcome of the AI, are ensuring that ordination standards will be maintained within their jurisdiction.
  • Churches, not trusting the bureaucrats at some or all levels, are withholding or redirecting per capita assessments.
  • Individuals and churches, not trusting the denomination’s stewardship, have made most gifts unrestricted where in the past the majority were unrestricted.
  • Membership continues its downward spiral as other Presbyterian denominations grow

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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 2nd, 2006 at 12:27 am and is filed under PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “PCUSA: Chains and things”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    November 2nd, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    I agree with your comments about Chains and Things. I believe that PCUSA and Presbyterys have no right to property of local congregations but I also believe that giving up property could be a plus for many congregations. I have been to Church in store fronts, tiny rural Churches and huge multi-million dollar complexes. It is not the building. It is the Spirit of the Living God in the members and the love that flows that is important. The buildings are God’s and if our folk have to be brought to the point of realizing that its God’s Church and not theirs by losing property then so be it. I do not trust the leadership of PCUSA and I don’t have any confidence in the Presbytery’s leadership that I am in. I have seen the progressive liberal view point grow stronger over the years because the vast majority of folks coming out of seminaries have been force fed this train of thought. There will be no renewal of the Church until we see a change in our Seminaries and a commitment to return to the faith of our fathers based on Biblical teachings. I also know that apathy has been rampant in lay folk all through the Church. We have placed the Clergy on one spiritual plane and have turned over the inner workings of our Presbyteries. I firmly believe that if Lay folk including me had taken active roles in Presbyteries we would not have the mess we are in. Is the PCUSA broken? yes Is it renewable? I don’t think so, God can revive and renew but he has plenty of denominations and folk who have remained faithful to deliver the Good News of Jesus and his redeeming power. What a shame that the Presbyterian Church USA lost its vision. My wife read an article about some of the fastest growing non-denominational Churches in the US. One factor they had in common. A lot of their leadership were formerly Presbyterian. Did they lose their salvation when they left the PCUSA> No. They just found a better place to show the love of God! Thanks E.E. Jones

  2. Grumpy Says:

    November 3rd, 2006 at 12:41 am

    Amen and amen! Thanks for your insights and for taking the time to share them.


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