Hope for the PC(USA)? Perception Is Not Reality…. (Part 2)

Yesterday I began a response to an open letter from “the Chicago eight” concerning the future status of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  The authors’ claim is that the future of our denomination is bursting with hope, and that we disaffected evangelicals are just blind at the moment — our perception is not reality.  Today’s blog is my concluding response to that open letter.

2)  Halfway through, after attempting fruitlessly (see yesterday’s blog) to show how deeply missional the PCUSA is, the letter claims, “The PC(USA) simply has not turned its back on proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”  Yet the very fact that the writers felt the need to make this declaration shows the sad state of our denomination.  Who in a healthy denomination would feel the need to defend their institution from the charge that the institution has turned its back on proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior?  Why would such a charge ever be leveled at a church that is faithfully following Christ?  Only if the charges have some prima facie support would one even tackle the question.  How sad that the authors at least implicitly recognize there is enough evidence against our institutional faithfulness to feel they have to come to its defense.  Yet what they offer as a defense is worse than flimsy.

3)  This letter urges those in congregations contemplating departure to “…insist that your leaders re-expose you to the voices of fellow Presbyterians who are resolute in their intentions to stay.  Do not allow one-sided presentations to be all you consider as you seek to discern God’s call to you and your congregation.”  Yet earlier, the authors said, “We know that those contemplating the possibility of leaving are bathing the decision in prayer, and are genuinely seeking to discern God’s will in this.”  Is God not capable of speaking clearly to those genuinely seeking His will, who are “bathing” their questions in prayer?  What makes the Chicago eight assume that evangelical leaders are unfair and one-sided in their presentations to their flock of these profound issues?  Why were there no similar calls to the liberal wing of the church in its single-minded and blindly one-sided push to divide the PCUSA by ramrodding a change in ordination standards?  I am offended by the implication in this paragraph that those committed to staying in the PCUSA are truly following God’s will, and those contemplating leaving are in danger of missing it.

It would seem to me that if the Chicago eight were wholly committed to seeing God’s will followed, they would equally urge those congregations that are not presently considering leaving to call on their leaders to expose them to those in the church who are resolute in their intentions to leave, so that they are not limited by one-sided determinations to stay.  The implications from the words of this letter are clear: staying is right; leaving is wrong.

4)  We are further warned not to be tempted by greener grass elsewhere because: a) such grass has its own problems; b) our grass may be regenerating in ways we haven’t seen; c) the process of jumping the fence brings heretofore unknown perils.  Beware the law of unintended consequences, and remember to count the cost before taking action (after all, we are reminded, Jesus gave us this piece of wisdom).

It is certainly true that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  However, often enough it is, and that is why grazing animals seek to leave their over-grazed or otherwise unhealthy confines.  In point of fact, having served in the EPC denomination for 7 years before re-entering the PCUSA in response to God’s call, I can affirm that the grass really is greener for evangelicals in that fold than it is in the PCUSA.  It suffers from none of the problems that plague our desolate pastures.  Certainly there are issues being debated in the EPC, but none of them deals with keeping or jettisoning orthodoxy.  We are told that PCUSA grass may be regenerating in ways we have not noticed.  Of course, if this is true it’s a tautology.  If there is regeneration going on, we are unaware of it because we haven’t noticed it.  This letter, however, does nothing to instill any faith in the notion that PCUSA grass is getting greener anywhere.  The most likely explanation for our not noticing any significant regeneration is that nothing significant is happening.  Indeed, overtures to this coming GA make it clear that liberals are seeking to spray the remaining grass with Roundup.  

As to the warning that seeking to jump the fence brings unforeseen perils, many of those leaving have indeed discovered this.  The perils relate almost wholly to our denominational machinery doing all in its power to penalize or inflict economic and ecclesiastical harm upon those leaving.  I’ve not heard of any congregations, which having left the PCUSA in the past are now saying, “We sure wish we had stayed.”  Perhaps there are some, but they must be in the tiny minority.  If the authors of this letter are really concerned about the perils facing those contemplating departure (I am thinking specifically of our GA moderator and vice-moderator), I can tell them how they, out of the deep love they profess, could quickly eradicate the bulk of the perils involved in leaping the fence:  TAKE DOWN THE FENCE.  Why not allow free and unhindered departures for those who believe God is calling them to go?  In our local churches we allow any member to move to another congregation without putting up barriers or demanding some payment before releasing him/her.  The attitude our larger leadership has had toward churches wishing to shift membership reminds me of repressive regimes that have built border walls not to keep out illegal immigrants but rather to keep in citizens seeking freedom or opportunity elsewhere.  All the feeble arguments to justify such draconian behavior fall far short of the law of love to which God calls us all, and sully the name of Christ. 

Lastly, we are called to beware the law of unintended consequences.  This is a good reminder.  Would that all the proponents of homosexual ordination and a new form of government had been given this warning and heeded it!  We would not now be facing what brings such worry to the Chicago eight.  Yet perhaps the consequences our denomination is now reaping were not unexpected or even unintended by the liberal wing.  That is between them and God.  But as the Scriptures remind us, “We reap what we sow.”  The authors of this letter also quote Scripture, reminding us of Jesus’ words to count the cost.  Though they apparently do not realize it, this is exactly what many of us have been doing, leading to the painful conclusion that to remain in the denomination we have poured our hearts and labors into and thereby lose fellowship with Jesus through disobedience is too high a price to pay.

5) Lastly, these authors tell us confidently that the “season of change” we are experiencing now is simply “…the birthpangs of a new church as it is being reformed by the Holy Spirit.”  I am astounded by what appears to me to be brazen folly.  Our denomination, like other mainlines that have trodden this path before us, is being torn asunder as faithful Christians leave in droves, and these interpreters tell us these wrenching pains are merely birthpangs caused by the Holy Spirit’s reforming work.  To many of us, these convulsions are signs of death throes, not birth pangs, and they are due not to reformation caused by following the Spirit, but to conformation caused by following a bankrupt culture.  While liberals seem eager to wheel the PCUSA to the obstetrics ward to behold a new birth, we see lying in an ICU bed a beloved denomination whose life is ebbing away from decades of addiction to deadly practices.  Time will tell whose diagnosis is correct.  But the fact that the Holy Spirit has never led the Church to embrace moral and theological positions in opposition to the Word before should offer some clues.

We are told that “reformation is strengthened by reinvesting ourselves and all of our congregations….”  But my question is, “Reinvesting in what?  In a denomination that is deaf to the leading of the Spirit, and hellbent on pursuing the life of the flesh?  To what end?  If our leadership showed any degree of repentance and remorse for leading the PCUSA to the brink of destruction, and called on evangelicals to join in reversing direction to regain our biblical footing, I would be among the front lines of response — which I’m sure would be huge.  Sadly, however, our liberal leadership seems content in its error.  This letter is just one more sign of deluded hubris.

Lastly, the letter acknowledges that “…the Church of Jesus Christ is facing a complex, turbulent time,” but that these eight elders together “…share a genuine hope for the future of the PC(USA).”  I wish I could be so sanguine about our future.  But where the church ought to experience turbulence is on the border where her life and influence clashes with that of the world, not in the middle of her heartland where peace, unity and purity ought to reign.  The turbulence we see is in the core of our institution, and when the infection causing this distress has so deeply invaded our vital organs, there is not much cause for hope.  With no other positive evidence, the Chicago eight tell us they are confident their hopes are sure because they are based on the resurrection of Christ.  But I would remind them that a rebellious Israel was confident that God would protect her from captivity or worse, even when she refused the calls of prophets to repent.  She was wrong.  A denomination that thumbs its nose at God may speak confidently of Christ’s resurrection power, but if we retain any memory of our Scripture we should not be surprised when it reaches out its hand before slipping under the waves of oblivion only to discover that the nail-pierced hand of the Savior is not there to save it.

My prayer is that these eight will listen to their own words — Perception is not reality — and see what the vast majority of  Christians in this denomination and around the world see so clearly.  Should that happen, my hope for the PC(USA) may flicker to life.

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26 Responses to Hope for the PC(USA)? Perception Is Not Reality…. (Part 2)

  1. Viola Larson says:

    Amen to this “The most likely explanation for our not noticing any significant regeneration is that nothing significant is happening. Indeed, overtures to this coming GA make it clear that liberals are seeking to spray the remaining grass with Roundup.” I shudder to think what the next GA will be like if God does not intervene. And this, “The perils relate almost wholly to our denominational machinery doing all in its power to penalize or inflict economic and ecclesiastical harm upon those leaving.” My own congregation is in a Presbytery that has contributed to a schism in order to keep the property and there is really no place to go for help but to God.
    Thank you Mateen -you are so very clear with your analysis.


    • mateenelass says:

      I’m so sorry, Viola, to hear of what your presbytery is attempting to do in decimating a wonderful congregation, all for the sake of denominational hubris. May God bring good out of evil in this case, as He promises in Romans 8. Thank you for your encouragement concerning my thoughts.


  2. Jim Berkley says:

    Thank you, Mateen, for so thoroughly telling the emperor that he has no clothes. You are right on every count, and yet the Presbyterian emperor preens and prances as if he were arrayed in golden finery, rather than nothing at all.

    Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA


  3. Mateen, thank you for speaking truth. How our denominational leaders can write their untruths with straight faces is beyond me. How they can urge us evangelicals to re-expose ourselves to the liberal theological garbage that has infected our church to its core and do so without laughing. What a sad, revealing letter.

    Lawrence (Larry) Wood
    PCUSA clergy, retired


  4. DiAne Fischer says:

    Hello Mateen…As always, your thoughtfulness is clear and helpful. We are in Mexico from Colorado Springs “on mission” and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico has cut their ties with PCUSA as a result of gay ordination. At the Multicultural conference in Atlanta several years ago speakers from Indonesia and Ivory Coast told us about their countrys’ prayers for the U.S. with great concern on our losing our way…it seems even more true now. Perhaps PCUSA will be lost in the desert…but the hope is for renewal in that God is God and the perspective of history will show us how the lost can be found. Blessings to you, DiAne Fischer, Queretaro, Mexico


    • mateenelass says:

      DiAne, thank you for taking time to write. It amazes me that liberals are so quick to want to bring in those of other cultures so as to increase our diversity while at the same time refusing to listen to the wisdom they bring that is not tainted by our cultural captivity. May God indeed bring us out of the wilderness — 40 years is long enough!


  5. As a faithful “3rd generation” Presbyterian, I have been stressed by and have agonized over our dear denomination for at least 20 years. My now departed minister brother long ago advised me to stay within the denomination to work for its return to a faithful understanding of the scriptures. Finally, with great sadness my wife and I determined to seek the “greener fields you mention. We found these in an American Baptist congregation where each week the Bible message is expounded. It actually reminds me of the church I grew up in ! We have both found a nourishment we had been missing for all too long, and a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit we had missed all too often in the PC.
    The PC(USA) seems to have tuned itself to the messages of the world’s “good people” more than to the message of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. I have many dear friends in the denomination, faithful followers of Christ. I continue to pray that they and the denomination may yet turn from the gospel of “Good People” of the world, and return to the “good News” of or Lord


    • mateenelass says:

      I’m saddened by your all too familiar experience, but rejoice with you that you’ve found a strong, Christian home in the ABC. I echo your prayers and yearnings for the PCUSA.


  6. David Richard says:

    He who has eyes to see, let him see. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

    Mateen, your eyes and ears are working perfectly.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and voice on PC(USA) and bringing perspective to the disconnect between perception and reality.


  7. Whit Brisky says:

    “But where the church ought to experience turbulence is on the border where her life and influence clashes with that of the world, not in the middle of her heartland where peace, unity and purity ought to reign. The turbulence we see is in the core of our institution, and when the infection causing this distress has so deeply invaded our vital organs, there is not much cause for hope.”

    I think these two sentences are the key to understanding where we are. If we are, indeed, a missional church as the Chicago Eight claim, then we must speak truth to the broader culture. But if we can’t figure out what the truth is, how can we speak it? As it is, we are but an uncertain trumpet with the truth drowned out by those who “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness. . . Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”


  8. Rick says:

    Mateen – If this is the way you truly feel, which I have no reason to doubt, maybe you should leave the PCUSA. I for one, am staying and redoubling my efforts to serve the church I grew up in and intend to continue to support. I refuse to follow “the crowd” that wants to leave. “The crowd” yelled Barabus!! when asked by Pilot who to release. Precious few wanted to follow Jesus. I guess I be with the precious few.


    • mateenelass says:

      Rick, are you not assuming here that the denomination is the “church” rather than one small slice of the whole, and perhaps as an institution it no longer qualifies — I.e., Jesus, Lord of the Church, has come and removed its lamp stand? I’m not claiming this definitvely, but I find your argument naively arrogant: the “crowd” wanting to leave is no longer serving the church, but is more like the crowd in Jesus’ day crying for Barabbas rather than Jesus. What evidence do you have that it’s not the other way around – that the much larger group such as the institution you are committed to remaining with is really the crowd who are shouting for an alternative to Jesus, and those looking for other options are the faithful disciples trying to stand apart from thos following the ways of the world? I rejoice that you feel called to stay and to redouble your efforts to serve the PCUSA, as long as that means serving the true Jesus Christ. And it may be right for me to leave the denomination — I haven’t made that determination yet. My preference would be to convert all the Barabbas lovers in the PCUSA into followers of Jesus, but they are the ones who seem to beholding the cards, and they are not interested in listening. As they reshape this denomination to their liking, they are moving it more and more away from the true Church. At least, that’s my assessment.


    • Jim Smith says:

      …the crowd excommunicated Martin Luther, while the precious few left.


  9. Matt Ferguson says:

    When I read your ‘take down the fence’ my mind replayed Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
    I sometimes have said to others we need to try to make our denomination / congregations as healthy as possible so others would want to join and just as welcoming as we are to receive we should be blessing those sensing God’s call to join another part of God’s one Church / family. I said, “Instead of seeking to exact a fee, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to see a presbytery take up a special offering to give a ‘thank you for our shared past joint ministry’ gift to a departing congregation?”
    Maybe the one group should change their name a bit to “That All May Freely Serve (where God is calling them)”.


  10. Steve Nelson says:

    This is happening in the PC(USA), Episcopal Church, ELCA, and the UMC and it is sad. These decisions are hard and God will guide. I am a UM minister serving in a PC (USA) Church. the struggle is alive and well and many are trying to be faithful while asking the right questions. Some will object to your message. Others will object to your tone and passion. Still others to your vision of the Church, but stand true to who you are, seek God and follow His Word that changes not. The timing of this is no mistake as many are gathered in Florida to ask the right questions and to discern their course of action in remaining faithful and true to the Lord while serving the Church. The threat of loss of assets and property should not give faithful people pause; for surely God is our provider and has given us everything we need for life and for Godliness. If there is to be loss of property and assets in being faithful, one should remain faithful still and know that God will provide a new worship space and new resources for those who seek Him…for the cattle on a thousand hills is the Lord’s. Judgment will be the Lord’s and anointing and blessing is removed when the corporate church takes actions to punish those who leave over these matters when it is they who have left the faithful first in their actins and decisions. Blessings and peace.


  11. Stephen says:

    You hit it out of the park with these two posts. Point number 2 is especially telling. Thank you.


  12. Chas Jay says:

    Mateen, thank you again for such insightful wisdom. Sadly, most of those that need to understand this are incredibly blinded by their self-righteousness. Recently I made the decision to stop attending the church where I have membership due to them remaining in the PCUSA and hoping it would spur them to vote to leave the denomination that conservative, Jewish radio talk show host Dennis Prager describes as being a far leftist political organization that just happens to put a cross on its buildings.

    I accepted Christ at the tender age of eight in a Southern Baptist church in Louisiana and was raised in one of those great Baptist churches that has thrived over the years. It’s one of those churches the liberals in this denomination despise. With that said, I actually have a great deal of disdain for the PCUSA as a whole because I never thought it actually stood for anything. The only reason I joined a presbyterian church is because I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit moving and saw people accepting Christ as their savior at my church because the leadership is rooted in the old reformed standard of “sola scriptura.”. In the last few weeks I have been worshipping at a Southern Baptist church that has tripled in membership in the last two years and most of its members are under 40, unlike most PCUSA churches The pastor at this Baptist church reminds me of the pastor I had as a child, Billy Crosby, who is one of the great pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention. One of Bro. Billy’s quotes that I have been reminded of recently is that there are no Baptist buttons or American flags in heaven. As many congregations are voting to leave the PCUSA, I have been reminded of that phrase because the liberals keep calling for congregations to remain for the sake of unity and declaring that those leaving are “destroying” the church. Just like there are no Baptist buttons in heaven, there are no PCUSA pennants, either. There is only one church in heaven and that is the Church of Jesus Christ. His Church is alive and well, unlike the denomination known as the PCUSA. If the PCUSA ceases to exist tomorrow, the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to live and prosper just as it has for 2,000 years.


  13. Jeff Robinson says:

    I strongly agree with you that PC(USA) has fallen into apostacy. That debate is over. I also believe that PC(USA) will continue its downward death spiral as conservative individuals and conservative congretations leave and the denomination becomes more and more liberal, not by growth of liiberalism but by the exodus of conservative believers. I believe that what is being promoted within PC(USA) today as “optional” will soon become mandatory. I believe that parents and grandparents who remain in PC(USA) churches will soon see their children and grandchildren bringing home Sunday School literature that today those parents and grandparents would not even allow in their homes.

    As a result of what PC(USA) has become and the path it is on, I am seeking a church home outside of PC(USA). I prefer to stay within the Presbyterian faith system but I cannot worship in a denomination that has abandoned the authority of God’s Word…. or in a local church that condones the recent actions and the state of apostacy of PC(USA) by doing nothing or, even worse, by approving the recent changes in ordination standards and way of government.

    Has First Presbyterian Church of Edmond taken a stand yet with respect to its affilaiation with PC(USA)? If not, is there a timeline under which a decision or decisions will be made?


    • mateenelass says:

      Jeff, FPC Edmond is presently in the deliberation stages as to our future. We have a task force scheduled to report to our session when it has finished its work, and then we will determine any timeline from there. Certainly the approaching GA at the beginning of July will be a crucial marker in the process.


  14. Jeff Robinson says:

    I entered a comment and question a few minutes ago. I “posted” it and saw ii in the list of comments. I came back to the site a few minutes later and it was gone. Why is that?


    • mateenelass says:

      I’m not sure why you saw your initial comment posted and then was removed before I read and approved it. The default way WordPress works is that comments from new parties are held until they have been approved by the blogger. After a commenter has once been approved, then future comments from that individual are automatically posted, I believe. I had not seen your initial comment until just a minute before I posted my first reply to you. I can assure you there was nothing nefarious in the process.


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