The Presbyterian Future That Must Not Be (Part 2)


What future do our Presbyterian bureaucrats and liberal lobbyists propose for our denomination?  Last month, two statements crafted by such leaders after the passage of 10-A were made public.  Each provides some hints or bold declarations of their dreams.

24 of our former GA moderators co-wrote a missive to urge the church to remain unified in the aftermath of this sea-change on ordination standards.  They acknowledge that even among themselves there are those who worked hard for this day to come and those who fought against it.  Yet now that it has come, they say together that it is time to move forward ” as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”

I am bemused by this rallying cry.  Apparently these leaders have determined that the respective convictions behind both the pro and anti positions are really not contradictory, or if they are they are not all that important in Kingdom terms, and so we should embrace unity.  But this seems to me like asking oil and water to blend themselves together, or like trying to get north and south poles to walk hand in hand at the equator, or, to be more biblical, to get light and darkness to dwell together in harmony.  Such efforts are doomed to failure, even when attempted in the name of diversity.  The former moderators call us to be a missional expression of the body of Jesus Christ.  But, I ask myself, which mission are we supposed to express: the mission which calls all sinners to repent and receive the forgiving and redeeming love of Jesus Christ, or the one which proclaims that you are good as you are, that God accepts you unconditionally and we are all one big happy family regardless of behaviors or convictions?  And how are we to understand the ideal of the body of Christ — as the place where we embrace biblical and unbiblical standards, accepting views and behaviors outside the bounds of Scripture and confessions in the name of love, or as the fellowship which seeks to emulate and honor Jesus Christ in its strivings for truth and righteousness through the Spirit?  As I read 1 Cor 6, where Paul castigates the Corinthian believers for arrogantly embracing immorality in their midst, reminds them that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and commands them to cleanse out the old leaven and to celebrate life together with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” it is clear that ongoing immorality among the people of God is not to be tolerated.  But our moderators are asking us to do just that, unless they have all concluded against the great weight of biblical evidence that extramarital forms of sexual union are not sinful in themselves.

Why this call to unity?  These former leaders make their presuppositions clear in this statement:

We believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not.  Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.

All of us are needed, we are told — our voices need to be heard and our gifts expressed.  I wish they had come to this conviction back when there were 2 million more Presbyterians in the denomination, but over the last 40 years our moderators and other leaders have been pursuing their own visions, heedless of the voices of those who in frustration or disgust finally slipped quietly away to oblivion or to other more faithful denominations.  But in reality it’s not true that the PCUSA “needs” us all, regardless of our stance on 10-A.  What our church needs are those who are committed to living for Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, molded in behavior and vision by the revealed Word of God.  If the Lord removes His favor from this institution, then all the voices and gifts of human beings harnessed together will accomplish nothing of importance.

Once again the tired saw “Our unity is strengthened by our diversity” is mindlessly trotted out.  Thinking people know that unity is not always strengthened by diversity.  The unity of concrete is not strengthened by the diversity of soils added to it; steel is not strengthened by the diversity of elements added to it.  Indeed in such cases, adding the wrong things causes concrete to crumble and steel to crack.  Only when the right elements are combined in the right proportions, does the proper diversity create greater strength of unity.  What our former moderators are claiming is that if we all, liberal and conservative, just mix our voices together, we will be stronger for it.  But is that not what we have been doing for the last 40 years, as we have shrunk by half our total membership, as our “voice” in society has become increasingly marginalized, as we crumble before the eyes of the world?

It is certainly true that vigorous debate and mutual forebearance is essential to the body of Christ.  But only when applied appropriately.  Vigorous debate is not needed over essentials, or over things so far outside the pale of a biblical worldview that they should be obvious to all who bear the name of Christ.  Likewise, mutual forebearance is to be exercised when there are varieties of generally acceptable opinions in matters about which the Scriptures do not speak clearly, but not when it comes to matters of sin.  Jesus and Paul are crystal clear on this.

Our leaders’ vision of the future is for more of the recent past– fruitless dialogue, internal dissent, fractured mission, alternate gospels.  Not a pretty picture.

The last letter I want to consider briefly was written by the leaders of More Light Presbyterians.  It is refreshingly candid in painting a clear picture of the future they envision.  They are now gearing up for three goals in the PCUSA: 1) to push churches to call and ordain LGBT candidates (to normalize in practice what has been theoretically normalized in church law); to continue to conversation on “marriage equality” (the goal is not just to have converstations but ultimately to get the church to support same-sex marriage, as well as perhaps other varieties of unions); 3) to help the whole church understand that the positive recognition of LGBTs in official leadership is “…a practical application of the Gospel message that God in Christ creates and loves us all.”

These goals have far-reaching theological, ethical, social and ecumenical ramifications (some of which I’ve touched on in other blogs).  Suffice it to say, this vision makes the PCUSA no longer Johnny Calvin’s church, by any stretch of the imagination.  Such a future must not be, if we can prevent it, by God’s grace.

Jude 3 commands us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  These are timely words for us.  “The faith” means there is particular content that we are to agree on; “once for all” means that the message has been given to us in toto — it is not up for grabs, or for modification; “delivered” means that we have received it on authority (from the Spirit and the apostolic communion He inspired), we did not make it up ourselves and so must be faithful in how we handle it; and “contend” — this imperative, from the compound verb epagonizomai, rests on the stem verb agonizo (to toil, struggle, strain; used particularly of athletic training and competition) with the added intensifying preposition epi as a prefix.  To contend means to engage in the struggle, knowing that it will demand all our energies and efforts.  Jude writes to the faithful in the church, exhorting them to contend for the faith not out in the marketplace of ideas (though that surely is part of our call) but where it is being challenged most strongly — among the believers themselves.

This seems to me to be our calling: not to give up, not to compromise, not to agree to a truce with the liberal agenda, but to reclaim the PCUSA, to declare that we are the heirs of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, that we stand firmly in the center of orthodoxy, and that we are no longer going to allow revisionists to wrap themselves in the mantle of the PCUSA.  If you’re interested in learning more about this vision, let me know.

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24 Responses to The Presbyterian Future That Must Not Be (Part 2)

  1. Yes, MLP seems to be the only honest voice in the aftermath of 10-A. There is no way that we can stay where we are now. MLP knows this. I think everyone else does as well. This year, I believe, is only the beginning. Redefining marriage is next. Making dissent in sexuality equivalent to racism and all other -isms can’t be too far off. Tough to imagine what’s next for opponents of 10-A. As you say in a previous post, “the deck is stacked.” Institutional muscle is being flexed in a mighty way. I’ve appreciated the boldness and fearlessness behind your public postings as well as the grace with which you do it. Thank you. Oh, and do tell me more about your vision.

    Rev. Cameron Smith
    Salem, VA

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    • mateenelass says:

      Cameron, I’m glad to make your acquaintance electronically, and am so encouraged by your statements. There are more of us in leadership roles who hold to orthodoxy in this denomination than many have imagined. The institutional deck is indeed stacked, but the institution can only deal cards when it has resources at its disposal. Over the last couple years we have seen the influx of monies to Louisville diminish considerably, but that is only a small shudder compared to the monetary earthquake which I believe is coming from churches reframing their giving priorities. Unfortunately, in our ecclesial economy, money talks louder than theological reasoning. I think it will become our third greatest tool, after prayer and courage.

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      • Money most definitely talks. Budgets, it seems to me, tend to dust up an inordinate amount of anxiety in presbytery offices. On the other hand, there seems to be an adventuresome and crusading spirit when it comes to retiring passe theological dogma. Reformed and always reforming ad nauseum. (According to the Word fell away from that formula long ago.) One thing that I forgot to mention beofre that gives me a sense of hope: Even with the deck stacked and the institutional muscle enjoyed by the left over the last thirty years, the best they were able to muster was “local option.” That’s it. Says quite a bit about the pew in the PCUSA. Give the left a B+ for persistence. Thanks for your words, my new friend.

        Rev. Cameron Smith
        Salem, VA

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  2. Jake says:

    I earnestly hope that one of the immediate fruits of national discussion will be a coordinated campaign to withhold per capita and escrow it until such time as the PCUSA returns to the apostolic tradition handed on to us. It seems to be the only language the folks in Louisville are fluent in.

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  3. Patti Beckman says:

    I want to know more. I am a former Indian Nations Presbytery two-term moderator and now serve a church in Michigan. I’ve been troubled for years by the direction of the denomination, but was not feeling called to take any action. That is no longer the case. I will be following your writing with great interest – perhaps the opportunity will arise for us meet in the near future. Thank you for your honest and candid assessment of the situation.

    Rev. Patti Beckman
    Hillsdale, MI

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    • mateenelass says:

      Patti, I’m glad to know you. If you are going to MN in August, I’ll look forward to meeting you there. I’ll be glad to email you some further thoughts. Blessings to you and your congregation.

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      • Patti Beckman says:

        I will be in MN in August. I’d be interested in email and will be glad to see you there. Thanks for the response!

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  4. Kay Nicholas says:

    God bless you Mateen. Thank you for being God’s faithful servant.

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  5. L.Lee says:

    Your post is one of the first I have read that stresses the Holy Spirit – God’s Presence with us: “What our church needs are those who are committed to living for Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, molded in behavior and vision by the revealed Word of God. If the Lord removes His favor from this institution, then all the voices and gifts of human beings harnessed together will accomplilsh nothing of importance.” Thank for proclaiming these truths and warning. Why does the Lord remove his favor, how is the church impeding the work of the Holy Spirit?

    Teach us how to submit to the Holy Spirit,
    because no one teaches this in our churches, our Presbyteries, our Seminaries. We talk and read about the Holy Spirit and acknowledge It, but how many are experiencing the power you mention? Out of our intense need we reach toward God and acknowledge that His ways are better – because our way of “doing church”, of trying to bring renewal, and unity of mission is not working. Are we at the end of our means yet, so that we must only rely on God and believe His Word to us?
    Your voice has the gift of the Spirit with discernment and I see God stirring things up
    and beginning to move. I hope you will share your knowledge and experience in how we can be more submitted to the Holy Spirit and will of God
    for what is coming. I am looking forward to hearing more of this vision God is giving!

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    • mateenelass says:

      Thanks for your insights. I will take seriously your requests, though I’m not sure I’m the best to teach others on submission to the Holy Spirit. But I believe you’re absolutely right that only a people surrendered to and filled with the Holy Spirit will be able to serve as successful agents of reformation for our moribund denomination.

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  6. Tom Edwards says:

    Mateen,
    Thanks for speaking up and for writing such cogent and helpful thoughts.
    Blessings in Christ,
    Pastor Tom Edwards, Kingwood, Texas

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  7. Sarah Hill says:

    Mateen, thank you for your bold and articulate blog posts. I’ve been linking them on our website, and pray they get wide readership!
    Hope to see you in Minneapolis.

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  8. Roy Schneider says:

    Great insights, Mateen. Keep ’em coming!

    Rev. Roy Schneider
    Enid, OK

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    • mateenelass says:

      Thanks, Roy. I was hoping to bump into you earlier this month at the Tri-Presbytery. We’ll connect soon, I’m sure.

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      • Roy Schneider says:

        Yep. I was hoping to see you, too. Not sure I heard a single evangelical voice during the Q&A with the moderator. Thought it was interesting when she said she didn’t see the PC (USA) setting up “affinity” presbyteries, which seems to be at the heart of the Fellowship movement.

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  9. I am pastor at Guymon and I look forward to meeting you in MN in August and perhaps talking with you by phone beforehand. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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  10. The Rev. Janine Taylor Bryant says:

    I have never seen such Pharasaism

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