The Presbyterian Lay Committee Inc. is building on its tradition and expanding its audience with the vision of seeing every Christian equipped to engage the culture in ways that honor Jesus.
The skills we honed in the context of the Presbyterian Church (USA) we now apply in the wider culture where Christians need to be equipped as ambassadors of the Kingdom in the kingdoms of this world.
The Presbyterian Lay Committee, which began in 1965, has always been about getting God’s people off the sidelines or out of the pews and into the conversations that influence the course of the local church, denomination or culture. It all started with a group of lay people who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, loved the Bible, loved the Church and were awakened with concern about the eroding of its foundation and trajectory of its public witness.
In 1965 the issues in the culture were civil rights, women’s sexual liberation, the fear of nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam war. How were Christians to be equipped to rightly engage these issues and lead the Church in influencing culture? The question was answered internally by the Presbyterian Church by adopting a new confession that said, in part, “the Scriptures are nevertheless the words of men.” That one phrase and its subsequent application, have had the effect of stripping the Bible of its authority within the PCUSA. Fifty years later we live with the fallout of the moral revolution in which the church participated.
The first Lay Committee members were lay leaders of the church, people of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America. They believed that decency and fair play would help their cause. Thus, they respectfully requested that the denomination’s leadership publicize their concern about the new confession. Their request was denied. They offered to buy space in denominational publications to publish their response. The denomination would not sell them space. Then they dug deep into their pockets and sponsored full-page advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.
“The 1967 Confession does not ring true. It is so filled with ambiguities, undefined statements … and obscure language that it becomes possible to rationalize almost any point of view the reader seeks to establish,” their ad said. They even advertised a product to sell (as a loss leader): $1 for a Book of Confessions.
The 1967 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church rejected the Lay Committee’s view and approved the Confession of `67. Many of the original members of the Lay Committee would see the predicted results: swift and massive loss of members, de-emphasis of evangelism and mission, and invasive Biblical illiteracy. But they did not take consolation in being prophetically correct. They would not stand by idly and watch the Presbyterian Church disintegrate.
In 1968, the Lay Committee dug deeper and began paying for a bold new strategy. The Layman was born. At its peak, The Layman is mailed to 500,000 Presbyterian households worldwide. Its voice is strong and consistent. Critics who would reshape the denomination to reflect cultural and social values rather than Biblical ethics have frequently lambasted The Layman’s coverage and commentary. Former moderator Robert Bohl and other denominational leaders attempted in 1995 to have The Layman publicly censured by the delegates to the General Assembly. The vote was 517-20 against censuring The Layman.
As congregations determined to leave the denomination that in many ways had left them, the Lay Committee became aware that help was needed in the area of church property law. With the publication of A Guide to Church Property Law (now in its second edition) and a frequently updated database of legal information at www.layman.org for churches seeking dismissal, the Lay Committee serves churches across the country who find themselves in conflict with the denomination that asserts a trust over all local church property. While the Lay Committee provides no legal advice, to further assist those congregations, the Lay Committee has partnered with highly qualified law firms across the country to file amicus briefs before the state supreme courts in California, Georgia, Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas. The maintenance of a one-of-kind legal database is owned and managed at Layman.org for those in need of church property litigation information. It is accessible free of charge.
In the first years of the 21st century, the Lay Committee supported the Confessing Church Movement and then the New Wineskins Initiative in the PCUSA. That effort became, over time, the New Wineskins Association of Churches and eventually built a bridge for congregations into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Since 2007, more than 300 churches have crossed that bridge and another 300 have departed the PCUSA to form ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. On the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Confession of 1967, the PCUSA is but a shadow of her former self. Again, that is not a reality celebrated by the Lay Committee. We grieve the departure of the PCUSA from Truth and the membership losses that have followed.
With the departure of so many congregations and members from the PCUSA, and the advent of digital communications, in 2014, the PLC ceased publishing the print version of The Layman, and continue all of its news, analysis and commentary writings on its web site The Layman Online (www.layman.org)
That is also the year that the Board of Directors adopted a new strategic plan recognizing that the lessons learned in the PCUSA were applicable to Christians in the wider world. The issues and challenges faced by mainline Christianity are now the issues facing evangelical Christians of all varieties. Leveraging all that we learned in the incubator of the PCUSA is the new expression of the PLC’s ongoing mission.
The message has never changed: The Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the only way to salvation and God calls His people to holy living. Although the PCUSA has wavered, the Lay Committee has stood firm. In the midst of a rising tide of cultural accommodation in the which the Lay Committee has maintained, at every turn, the veracity of God’s Word, the authority of God’s Son and the present power of God’s Holy Spirit to transform sinners today. That is good news for all people and so the PLC is now making its resources available to Christians in the wider culture through The Reconnect.
The Reconnect is a daily one hour Christian worldview talk radio show and website, ReconnectwithCarmen.com. The goal is to equip Christians in reconnecting the eternal with the everyday and then turn toward conversations with their neighbors as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We are seeking to mobilize every Christian to get off the sidelines and into the cultural conversations of the day in ways that honor Jesus.