The Presbyterian Future That Must Not Be (Part 1)


Now that the liberal vanguard of the PCUSA has successfully implemented its ordination agenda and is feeling empowered, what kind of future are its leaders planning for us?  Let’s take a look at some of their declarations soon after the passage of 10-A, beginning with the more moderate liberals.

Covenant Network’s Board of Directors believes that 10-A replaces “a contested sexual ethic” in our ordination standards, implying that now that fidelity and chastity language is no longer there in writing the majority of the PCUSA membership no longer embraces it.  Yet they go on to acknowledge that “…Presbyterians are not of one mind about the wisdom of this reform and the interpretation of scripture in matters of sexual ethics.”  Their belief is that 10-A makes room for Presbyterians to hold and respect diverse views and remain together.  Citing the unity of the church as one of their goals, Covenant Network proposes more dialogue and shared mission as the means to create this unity.

This is “pie in the sky” thinking, exacerbated by language crafted to hide the indelible divide between those resting on divine wisdom and those promoting human wisdom in the matters of human sexuality.  While Covenant Network speaks of “diverse” views, I and many others see “contradictory” views.  Homosexual behavior either is sin or it isn’t.  If it is, it must be repented of by those seeking to serve Christ and His church.  If it is not, then those falsely accusing others of sin must be brought to account.  Both sides cannot be right; one side must be wrong.  In matters of truth and falsehood, one may respect the right of others to cling to falsehood, but one cannot respect falsehood itself.  If what Covenant Network envisions is a future where we live in some politically constructed unity supported by the propaganda-driven spin machine of “inclusiveness” where we are all one in Christ (a catch-all phrase that is never precisely defined), then what I see is the increasing division and diminuition of this denomination.  If the foundation of a house is off-kilter and it is causing the walls to crack in larger and deeper ways, simply papering over the cracks when they tear the previous wallpaper and declaring the house to be safe does nothing to solve the problem.  The foundation must be set right.  In my view, Covenant Network’s vision for the future will merely accelerate the already imminent death of the PCUSA — it will become a sister club of the Unitarian Universalists, retaining a smattering of Christian, Reformed language and vestiges of Christian practice resting precariously upon a hollow foundation of theological vacuity until what remains implodes. Not a pretty picture.

Our denomination’s leadership also sent out a letter on the results of 10-A which offers a spin worthy of the most astute political party ever to tackle a thorny issue.  This new decision, we are told, is our latest attempt to allow all to “…share their gifts in ministry while, at the same time, the integrity of every congregation, member, deacon, elder, and minister is respected.”  I’m not sure what this means for a denomination that touts itself as being “connectional”, but it’s clear from this letter that our leaders recognize the divide runs deep over what course our church should take.  They seek to smoothe the ruffled feathers of evangelicals by highlighting that all officers of the church must joyfully submit to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life, but of course they pointedly ignore the sad truth that we in the PCUSA fold can’t seem to agree on which sexual ethic reflects true submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  What the future seems to hold for us is a schizophrenic practice where we speak out of both sides of our mouth in claiming that fidelity and chastity exclusively demonstrate submission to the will of Christ and at the same time that other forms of sexual expression equally demonstrate submission to the will of Christ.  But only in this way, it seems, can we be a truly “inclusive” church.  We sacrifice truth, purity and even the path of salvation on the altar of a humanly-engineered unity.  How can we move forward together, in the eyes of our denominational leaders?  Here’s the key:

“…as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another.” 

The fallacy in this otherwise nice statement is that it focuses singularly on the mode by which we are to discover God’s will (in community), and almost completely ignores the means by which God has directed us to find His will (study of the Scriptures under the tutelage of the Spirit).  Worship, prayer, thought and service are all good activities, but when done absent obedience to the whole counsel of God, they are empty, even deceptive, in leading us to follow our own hearts’ desires, rather than God’s.

What was most distressing about this letter was its closing prayer, in which we are all invited to join.  It begins by expressing gratitude to God for all G.A. commissioners and presbyters, especially in this present time, “…who have sought diligently to discern the mind of Christ for the church.”  Having been to the last two GAs from start to finish, and having served in 4 different PCUSA presbyteries, I am convinced that only a small percentage of leaders falls into this category.  Not only are most of us (on all sides of important issues) blinded by our own prejudices which barricade our minds from inconvenient truth, but our bureaucracy (under the ever present reality of human fallenness) has become a powerful means of manipulating the decision-making of our commissioners at presbyteries and GAs.  This is why so few people trust that the decisions coming from our governing bodies reflect anything more than the will of those who have stacked the deck.  Who would not agree that our system of government needs huge reforms?

But the letter’s prayer concludes with a plea to God that in my mind illumines so clearly why we face what the writers describe as an unclear future.  It asks God, “Open our ears and our hearts to listen to and hear those with whom we differ.”  This of course is not a bad thing in itself.  But in the face of such division over God’s will wouldn’t you think our leaders would cry out to God that He open our ears and hearts to discern His mind accurately from the Scriptures and thereby lead us together into joyful submission to His Lordship in this arena, as in all others?  The fact that we prioritize the listening to one another over the listening to Scripture demonstrates how far we have drifted from the Reformers’ understanding of the means by which God most clearly communicates His truth to the church.  Such a practical divorce from the sola Scriptura standard bodes ill for our future.

In my next blog, I’ll tackle the letter from our former moderators and the communication issued by More Light Presbyterians.  The latter in particular demonstrates clarity and honesty by openly enunciating the future to which a liberal theological agenda will lead in this cultural climate.

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12 Responses to The Presbyterian Future That Must Not Be (Part 1)

  1. Matt says:

    Thank you, Mateen. I appreciate your clear, thoughtful reflections on the current goings on in our denomination, and look forward to the future posts you’re planning.

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  2. Pingback: Around the Web | Denominational Updates from First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen

  3. Mark R. Patterson, PhD says:

    Well said, once again, Mateen. I think the progressive side of the church is clueless regarding the significance of recent decisions, Evangelical frustration, and the trauma this is going to bring. Thanks again for your clear perspective and writing. Lord bless friend!

    Like

  4. L.Lee says:

    Does your vision include understanding and learning to submit to the Holy Spirit?
    It seems that many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are missing in this denomination as
    a whole and instead there is as you so aptly express human effort to create unity.
    So, how can we be in a place to receive the “revival” that only the Holy Spirit of
    God can bring to the church? How can we repent of, eliminate, and change the things that impede the work of the Holy Spirit? Is there any place for this in your vision for where God is leading us next, post A-10? I believe there are some who will not bend to God’s work of the Holy Spirit but insist on doing things there way. However, I am aware that individuals in the church know first hand about the work of God in their lives, in their congregation, and I can celebrate that? But is it enough?How can “David” take care of the “Goliaths” in our midst unless we
    have “faith” in the work of the Holly Spirit to do it and that God has given us the tools by His Spirit to do it.

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    • mateenelass says:

      L.Lee,
      You have made a great point. I have not spoken directly about the activity of the Holy Spirit in this vision, but He is of course central to any transformation of the church that is of eternal signficance. My unspoken assumptions were that we who are interested in renewal would yield our lives and actions as best we are able to the leading and guidance of the Spirit in accordance with the Word. I’m embarrassed to say that I have not been more vocal about this, given that I wrote a small book 6 years ago, commissioned by the Office of Theology and Worship of the PCUSA, on the Holy Spirit (published by Geneva Press). One would think I might be more pneumatologically inclined in my orientation! Thank you for widening my perspective!

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  5. Jeff Winter says:

    I move to have Mateen Elaas be the Stated Clerk of the new Presbyterian denomination that will spin off from the near death PCUSA. Do I hear a second?

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    • mateenelass says:

      Jeff, why would you consign the Presbyterian Church and me to what would cerainly be hell on earth were such a nightmare to become reality? Such a role is not for me. And besides, it’s out of order. My goal is not the start of a new denomination but the reclamation of the PCUSA. Why can’t that be done?

      Thanks for the good laugh, anyway!

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      • Jeff Winter says:

        Mateen, you are one of the clearest biblical thinkers and writers that I know of in the PCUSA. I appreciate your boldness in speaking for the truth with such clarity and conviction. I was called as a “missionary” to this denomination in 1980. I will slug away with you and see what the Holy Spirit can do in the midst of such darkness.

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      • mateenelass says:

        Jeff, I’m honored by your words, but there are many cogent, biblical thinkers and writers still alive and kicking in the PCUSA. They just need to get some circulation! I enlisted as a missionary to this denomination just 2 years after you. May God gather us all into an effective instrument for the coming reclamation!

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  6. Bashir says:

    Dear Mateen Elass,
    I am Pastor Bashir from India. I and the believers at our fellowship facing lots of oppositions & threats from radical Muslims. I would like to write to for your kind prayers for us & the persecuted believers. I can’t write to you openly due to security purposes for the persecuted believers. Please could you send your email id to me? Here is my email id, pastorbashir@gmail.com.
    Bashir

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    • Daniel says:

      I have been getting spam from this pastorbashir@gmail.com for over a year. Sometimes he claims to be a missionary in India, sometimes in Pakistan, and even once in Nigeria. I have found his comments and claims on many, many blogs and sites. My own feeling is that he is a scam artist. Personally, I think it unwise to send him any money or anything he can sell to get money without first finding out who and what he really is. Since I myself am a missionary in South America I do not mention this lightly and would not seek to do harm to a genuine servant of the Lord, but this guy is just too visible and spends too much time spreading his name and fame across the net to be viable. Plus, in my humble opinion, true missionaries do not spam any and every email address they can get their hands on asking for money and Bibles. If he is the real thing then may the Lord bless his efforts. But if he is what I suspect, he is cursed with a curse as was Simon Bar-Jesus.

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