(*with apologies to Mary Magdalene on her Easter morning exclamation).
I use Google reader to subscribe to the news link on the Presbyterian Church (USA) website — it’s a way to stay in touch with what our denominational leadership considers important enough matters to draw the world’s attention to. Every so often, I fall a few days behind and have to scroll through a number of stories to catch up.
For example, earlier this month I missed checking from December 6-8. Ten different “news” stories awaited me. Reading through them, I was struck afresh with an all too familiar, all too sad epiphany. The PCUSA has lost its way — it’s hard to find any serious emphasis on the person and work of Jesus Christ, on the message of eternal salvation, on the urgency of evangelism. Instead, we seem to have devolved to a social action movement with a veneer of quasi-religious platitudes. Let me summarize the ten stories important enough to be highlighted on our denominational website:
1) Special needs kids in Havana, Cuba get special ed care — Presbyterians are there in a tangential way to help; 2) Mission Crossroads magazine now has its content available online so you can follow how we advance the causes of justice, peace, and “witness”; 3) “More Than Consultation — Collaboration” tells of leaders across the church discussing refugee resettlement issues; 4) an international cluster bomb accord has been derailed after failing to meet humanitarian concerns — our denomination apparently had a small role in lobbying with others to this end; 5) atheists have now launched a campaign to rally unbelievers to their cause (I’m not sure why this was included, unless we wish to take some credit for producing more unbelievers for the atheists to rally); 6) “Our first Christmas together” looks at the ups and downs of various “firsts” for neophytes in parish ministry; 7) a California church is lauded for winning an “energy Oscar” in response to its “green” efforts; 8 ) faith groups in Kenya seek ways to strengthen their HIV/AIDS prevention strategies; 9) religious groups spend nearly $400 million on DC political advocacy efforts; and 10) the sale of the property of a Native American congregation will financially benefit future Native American Presbyterian ministries.
Many of these stories reflect good things happening — I don’t dispute that. For me the issue is that these kinds of things are being done while the main calling of the church of Jesus Christ is being neglected, or worse, consciously avoided.
Where are the stories of the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out on Presbyterians proclaiming the gospel with thousands responding in a single day? Where are the accounts of healings in Jesus’ name that bring many into the Kingdom? Why do we not hear of congregational sacrifice where members sell property and possessions to take care of the influx of the poor into the church? Where are the stories of fellowships sending pioneers out to neighboring cities, states, countries, to reach the unchurched? Where is the passion to exalt Jesus Christ as Savior of the world and Lord of creation? Where are the accounts of our leaders gathering those wise in the ways of God and tested in Spirit-directed battle to strategize on how to win to Christ our lost generations?
As I scrolled through the “news stories” on the denominational website, I couldn’t help comparing them in my mind to the stories told of the church in the Book of Acts. Ah, someone will say, Acts covers a period of some thirty years. These ten stories are being reported over three days. True, and valid, to some extent. The response would be more trenchant, however, if we ever saw significant reporting of Acts-like activities in our midst today. The problem isn’t so much with what we are accomplishing. It’s with what we’re missing. We as a denomination are accomplishing so little of eternal import. We have our eyes on the wrong target. Our passions are misdirected. We enshrine justice, equality, and goodness as ultimate pursuits, and render Jesus one of many means to accomplish these ends. As a result, we have no gospel for the world, except that of our own fleshly-inspired efforts to succeed in building the utopia that our Enlightenment saints and their deistic offspring never could pull off. It’s no wonder the PCUSA has no heart for evangelism. You can’t preach convincingly when you believe no gospel; and you can’t have a gospel when Jesus Christ is no longer the center of your being and doing.
I understand from recent conversations and online reports that many liberal Presbyterian leaders feel shocked to see so many evangelicals and moderates fleeing to other denominations in response to this year’s pyrrhic victory of the theological left. I’m shocked as well — not that so many are leaving, but that the liberal leadership could be so willfully blind as to think that those faithful to the gospel would do nothing but go down with the ship.
Not all of us have left yet, however. Some of us remain hopeful that though the church seems to have been taken from us, and is now thoroughly moribund, Jesus is in the resurrection business. As Mary Magdalene discovered, her work was not to tend to a misplaced corpse but to bow in wonder, joy and love before her risen Lord. May that same risen Lord free us from the task of tending to a dead denomination, and fill us with wonder, joy and love by restoring to fullness of life a once great gospel movement!