To the greater glory of God or the pursuit of mammon?
The Layman April/May 2007 Volume 40, Number 1, members of the Protestant mainline denominations are waking up to discover that bureaucrats are seeking to stifle their growing theological dissent by coercing their ministers and lay leadership and by confiscating the property of their congregations.
Long years of squishy theology, cultural decisions trumping the Biblical witness and apostate actions that do nothing to further the Kingdom of God have led to massive membership losses and an ongoing drying up of donations that had been used to fund secular denominational initiatives rather than mission, evangelism and disciple building.
Many Biblically-faithful and Christ-centered congregations are sincerely struggling with whether they can clearly manifest the marks of the true church while continuing as a part of their respective denomination. Others are considering joining a more Biblically orthodox sister denomination.
Faced with dwindling budgets and continuing denominational job cuts, and panic-stricken by the thought of more churches leaving with their gifts and properties, bureaucrats have responded in two ways – both unconscionable:
• They implore those considering joining a more Biblically faithful communion to remain within their existing denominations because, they say, “fractures within the body of Christ diminish our witness of God’s grace and mercy to the world.” These types of statements belie such secularized actions and activities – none of which has been renounced – that serve to undermine the Great Commission throughout the world in favor of Taco Bell boycotts, funding for pro-abortion groups and other initiatives that do nothing to further the Great Ends of the Church Universal.
Perhaps more telling, and possibly inadvertent, admissions on the part of these bureaucrats were statements that said the denomination “will miss the gifts and perspectives of these brothers and sisters in Christ,” while also warning of the “consequences of division.”
• While they were publicly urging reconciliation, these same leaders have been working in secret to establish task forces of attorneys to develop legal strategies to use hardline tactics against congregations seeking to leave their denominations – as permitted under their constitutions – with their property.
The Episcopal Church USA, so far as is publicly known, established such a task force as far back as the summer of 2005. In January 2007, the properties of 15 congregations in Virginia were declared “abandoned” because they had voted to leave the denomination for theological reasons. Twenty-one clergy members were barred from performing any priestly duties or from participating in denominational or diocesan councils, as well as being declared ineligible to earn further credits toward their pensions.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) developed, prepared and selectively disseminated two “privileged and confidential” documents that advised presbyteries to use punitive measures against congregations seeking to leave, including taking over the congregation and suing their ministers and lay leadership.
‘The Louisville Papers’
The aggressive legal strategies discussed in “The Louisville Papers” have been used against many churches and ministers in all parts of the country, with lawsuits being filed against the congregations. In a telling example that contradicts the Book of Order, the pastors of two congregations were warned by their presbytery committees on ministry that “actively advocating for a congregation’s withdrawal from the PCUSA is not an approved work.”
To date, no denominational official has renounced these heavy-handed strategies or the financial greed underlying them.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from such contradictory statements and actions are that the public words of denominational officials are hollow and they do not honestly advocate conciliation, mediation and adjusting differences without strife. On the contrary, they endorse such stifling and punishment.
There is nothing of Christ in the content and tenor of these denominational strategies, and we call upon the whole church to denounce them. Scripture shows us the “still more excellent way” of love. We call upon denominational officials to honestly support those churches struggling with whether they can continue as a part of their respective denomination and to renounce the tactics now being used against dissenting churches, to honor the decisions of those churches, and to work with those congregations to reach an amicable departure that will glorify God.
Even on such occasions of separation, we are constrained by God’s Word to reflect the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The Layman Editorial Board