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Presbyterians and “Decently Ordered” Schism

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  • Presbyterians and “Decently Ordered” Schism

    by Peter Johnson

    Schism, like everything else in the Presbyterian Church, appears to be “decently ordered.” Like the neat, clean Excel spreadsheet rows that delineate the membership decline of America’s largest Presbyterian denomination (PCUSA), the process of leaving the PCUSA is laid out for churches and groups who decide they can no longer exist under the its authority. And I’m not just saying that tongue-in-cheek: In an interview not too long ago, Dr. Laura Smit, a professor at Calvin College and Presbyterian minister, made the case that schism is actually a form of obedience to PCUSA polity.

    And if that’s not enough, here is what you might read—as the member of a PCUSA congregation—when your church is going through the process of changing denominations:

    The Exploratory Task Force gave their final report to Session last month. Their recommendation was to leave PCUSA and enroll the church in [insert your favorite flavor of new Presbyterianism here]. On motion, and after much discussion, the Session accepted the Task Force recommendations and agreed to move forward with the discernment process as defined by Presbytery. The Listening/Discernment Team from Presbytery presented their proposed Listening/Discernment Process plan which the Session agreed to implement. This will result in a number of congregational informational meetings and discussions culminating in a congregational vote, which will decide on the options of staying with the PCUSA or joining another Presbyterian denomination.

    See what I mean by decently ordered?

    Of course, like divorce, reading about the legal requirements of separation is always much more sterile and tidy than the truth about the situation for those living through it. I know this because the excerpt above was lifted from this month’s newsletter from my own church here in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order, which may flit through the mind of a Presbyterian when it is announced that his/her church might be leaving the PCUSA:
    • Are we considering the PCA, EPC, or another newfangled denomination?
    • Will we keep our building?
    • How will this impact the church budget?
    • Is this because of the gay issue?
    • What about the ordination of women?
    • Why now?
    • I have to vote on this.


    At least, these were the things I pondered (instead of listening to the sermon) a couple of Sundays ago when I heard that my church was considering leaving the denomination.

    At some point during the same service, a representative from the PCUSA interrupted our pastor mid-sentence to let the congregants know that he had joined us “to listen” to the congregation’s concerns. My pastor, to his credit, graciously affirmed the interrupting voice, introducing the man as someone who had been assigned to us from the Presbytery.

    After the service, I was given a stack of informational documents that were supposed to help me in my discernment process leading up to the congregational vote. Included in these documents was a denomination comparison chart, in which I was shocked to learn that a majority of PCUSA pastors and elders question the exclusivity of Christ as a means to salvation.

    Could this be true?

    Having grown up in an age of constant media spin, I wondered if this was perhaps an embellishment based on an obscure survey’s poorly worded question.

    Unfortunately, subsequent research has only served to reconfirm this shocking fact. In a 2011 survey—released by the PCUSA itself—it was found that only 40 percent of elders and pastors believe that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” As if to demonstrate that their commitment to order is stricter than their commitment to scripture, tradition, or religious authority—the PCUSA continues to make this stat widely available through an easily searchable document on their own website (see for yourself by clicking here).

    Of course, the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported on this alarming statistic years ago. I guess in the deluge of dismal statistics about the PCUSA over the last few years, I missed this finding of the Presbyterian Panel Survey.

    Still, I think it is important to note that the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions—which describes the central tenets of Presbyterian faith—is quite clear: Jesus is the only means to salvation.

    There is no easy way to reconcile the fact that the results of the 2011 Presbyterian Panel survey are at odds with PCUSA’s own guiding statement of faith. The writing is on the wall, though. Presbyterians often boast that democracy is older in our church than it is in our country. With scores of Presbyterians leaving the PCUSA every year for more orthodox denominations, the voting body is becoming increasingly liberal. It seems inevitable that the day will come when the denomination votes to add language to the Book of Confession which rejects the exclusivity of Christ.

    There is one silver lining, though, for those who insist on remaining in the PCUSA: The denomination could very well grow after they formally vote to reject Christ’s unique role in salvation. After all, such a vote would align the PCUSA nicely with the Unitarian Universalist church and perhaps the two could merge.

  • #2
    Personally, I would tell them that caused the split they are no longer Presbyterians, and question whether they are believers. It is tragic to see a well-established church split apart. You should see what the new pastor did to Dr. D. James Kennedy's church after he died. They went so liberal, they even kicked his daughter, Jennifer out forcibly! Right after the new pastor came in with hundreds of liberal followers. They dropped the broadcasts from the church. D. James's sermons are still available.
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
      Personally, I would tell them that caused the split they are no longer Presbyterians, and question whether they are believers. It is tragic to see a well-established church split apart. You should see what the new pastor did to Dr. D. James Kennedy's church after he died. They went so liberal, they even kicked his daughter, Jennifer out forcibly! Right after the new pastor came in with hundreds of liberal followers. They dropped the broadcasts from the church. D. James's sermons are still available.
      The history of the OPC is rooted in the PCUSA. Early in the life of the PCUSA, some attempted to Reform the PCUSA assembly, bringing it back in accordance to God's word, they were met with discipline, thus the split and creation/solidification of the OPC.

      The PCUSA has absolutely nothing in common with Presbyterianism other than the church system of government. All common creeds and confessions have been abandoned.

      The OPC holds to the historic Westminster Westminster Standards—the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, and Shorter Catechism—which have formed the doctrinal basis for Presbyterian churches since 1647. The OPC did not adopt revisions to the Confession made by the PCUSA in 1903 (the addition of the chapters "Of the Holy Spirit" and "Of the Gospel of the Love of God and Missions," and a "Declaratory Statement" reinterpreting God's eternal decree in an Arminian manner and declaring that all who die in infancy are saved). Likewise the OPC did not adopt the PCUSA Confession of 1967, which fails even to mention the deity of Christ, opens the door to universalism (the false doctrine that everyone is going to be saved in the end), and degrades the uniqueness of Christianity in the statement, "The Christian finds parallels between other religions and his own and must approach all religions with openness and respect."

      Albert Mohler wrote an observational baptist piece on the events surrounding the PCUSA: Vanishing Christianity

      God bless,
      William
      Comment>
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