There seemed little reason to be meeting in a space as large as the Portland Convention Center as the exhibit hall was nearly empty as were the bleachers and most of the chairs in the section for observers of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Press row was a mere 11 chairs, four occupied by The Layman, four by The Presbyterian Outlook, one by the GA Junkie, and none by secular press. So, if you were waiting for secular news media coverage of the PCUSA General Assembly (GA222), there wasn’t much. The Associated Press did seek to disperse one article entitled “Largest Presbyterian denomination picks 1st black leader,” in reference to the election of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson as the fourth Stated Clerk of the PCUSA.
It’s not that Presbyterians didn’t garner big headlines last week, it just wasn’t the Presbyterians in the PCUSA. The PCA, Presbyterian Church in America, made plenty of headlines for its renewed conversation about the role of women in leadership, while the PCUSA’s election of a pair of female co-moderators in the 50th year of the ordination of women failed to make a media ripple. Similarly, the PCA’s repentance of “racial sin” also made national headlines whilst the PCUSA’s many apologies issued to several native people groups, African Americans or victims of church sexual abuse did not. The PCUSA’s own Presbyterian News Service, The Presbyterian Outlook and The Layman were joined in the press section by bloggers but no other Christian media outlets were physically present.
- approved a new Directory for Worship but voted against both the restoration of marriage to one man and one women as well as an amendment that sought to preserve the linkage between baptism and the Lord’s Supper,
- embraced evolution, (read items 14-02, 14-13, and 09-10)
- eschewed evangelism , and
- included Muslim prayers to Allah in opening worship.
The second mark of the Church: the right administration of the sacraments
According to Reformed theology there are three marks of the true church: where the word is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and church discipline rightly applied. The first and third marks have been at issue among American Presbyterians since the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s. But to this point, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been maintained, at least in the denomination’s documents, with integrity. The new Directory for Worship adopted by the General Assembly effectively decouples baptism from the Lord’s Supper by removing the requirement of baptism for admission to the table.
Efforts were made by commissioners to amend the proposal to restore the explicit requirement that those receiving communion be baptized. Those efforts failed and the debate was illustrative of the reality that pastors are not currently administering the sacraments in keeping with the PCUSA’s constitution. They are not asking if those partaking are baptized and they are offering to baptize those they know are baptized into the Christian faith. This leads directly into the conversation about the assembly’s action on evangelism … but first, let’s talk evolutionary theory.
Embracing evolution and eschewing evangelism
In several separate items of business the PCUSA affirmed evolutionary theory and eschewed evangelism.
In 1969, the PCUSA started down an evolutionary path that resulted in the 2016 full endorsement of evolution. Evolution and climate change were not matters of serious debate but treated as foregone conclusions by a wide majority of commissioners.
A majority of commissioners also rejected calls for a commitment to evangelism.
I couple these two issues together because of the Gospel. If you do not accept the reality of Man’s unique creation in God’s image, you need not accept so-called binary ideas like the purposeful nature of male-female creation. Nor do you need to acknowledge that Creation, in God’s original design, was perfect, marred by sin and now subject to sin’s degradation. So, if sin is not personal then redemption from sin need not be personal, effectively eliminating the need for a personal savior. That changes the nature of the Gospel.
Evangelism becomes something radically different and the first Great End of the Church, “the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind,” means a social-justice, progressive restoration of creation and not the seeking and saving of the spiritually lost.
When you change the gospel being proclaimed you redefine the mission of the church. That means that henceforth, when you see the word “evangelism” used in PCUSA literature related to local, national and international mission, you must now ask what is expressly meant by that term because this General Assembly made clear that it does not mean personal conversion to Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord, by faith alone, through grace alone, as defined by Scripture alone.
There can no longer be any question that Machen was right when he observed that Christianity and liberalism are two different faiths. The PCUSA has made abundantly clear which faith alone will be practiced under its denominational flag.
All of which leads to how the PCUSA GA222 could sit still and receive prayers contrary to both the Scriptures and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Muslim prayers to Allah
For many, the most troubling aspect of the entire GA222 happened at the very beginning of the week, during Saturday’s opening worship service.
Mateen Elass, who speaks Arabic and has a lifetime of experience with Islam, addresses the issue better than I could. He says:
“as a token sign of its expansive tolerance, a Muslim was invited to participate in leading this liturgy. His name is Wajdi Said, president of the Muslim Educational Trust in the Portland area.
When it was his turn to lead, Mr. Said began by chanting in Arabic, most but not all of which was translated into English on the screen for the ignorant participants. Hardly anyone there, I’m guessing, had any idea where the words Mr. Said chanted came from. The first sentence was not translated — apparently, Wajdi threw that in on his own. This is what he said: “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed.” Within the Muslim world this is a common interjection when one fears the presence and power of evil spirits. Since Islam teaches that Christians and Jews who reject the claims of Muhammad are the vilest of creatures, under the sway of Satan, it is not surprising he would begin with this intercessory prayer for himself. Apparently, he need not have worried.
The remainder of his Arabic chanting was the most well-known chapter of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, which observant Muslims recite a minimum of seventeen times a day. Often called “the Mother of the Qur’an,” this chapter composed of seven verses, is a prayer to Allah. Its main request is that the petitioner be led on “the straight path,” that is, the path revealed through Muhammad, and not be misled on the paths either of those who have incurred Allah’s wrath (popularly understood to refer to the Jews), or of those who have gone astray (popularly understood to mean the Christians). So here at the start of the business of the PCUSA General Assembly is a Muslim man praying to the Allah of the Qur’an that the gathered delegates be led to Islam and away from the cursed Jews and the wayward Christians. What an uplifting way to begin the national meeting of a denomination once faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ….
After he finished this chanted prayer of Islam, Mr. Said then spoke a seemingly extemporaneous prayer in English seeking blessing, where he once again invoked Allah’s power to “…lead us to the straight path, the path of all the prophets, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.” To the untrained theological ear, this may sound somewhat innocuous. But in his prayer Mr. Said made three bold claims antithetical to the gospel:
- Praying to Allah (a god different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ), he was pleading that the Presbyterians gathered there would be converted to the straight path, i.e., become Muslims. That is the definition of chutzpah, to use a Yiddish term.
- He revealed the Islamic belief that all true prophets were in fact Muslims, i.e., believers in the straight path that Muhammad taught. In other words, there is no plan of salvation that God is unfolding, pointing to the coming of a Messiah for the world, but only a static message which prophets have been repeating unchanged from the time of Adam, the message of surrender to Allah and his will, to be rewarded or punished for eternity depending on how well or poorly you please him.
- Jesus is only one among these numerous prophets. To be sure, he has high ranking in the prophetic pantheon, but like all the rest he is only human.According to Islam, Jesus is no mediator between God and humanity, he has no divine nature, he did not die for the sins of humanity, he was not raised from the dead, he did not open the way for the Holy Spirit to indwell and transform human beings into his likeness, he is not the Lord and Savior of humanity. …
Elass goes on to catalog a list of theological concerns
- a practicing Muslim is invited to lead the worship of Christians
- he invokes the name of Allah in Islamic prayer, and prays the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian prayer of the Fatiha
- he asks Allah to convert the assembly
- his prayer implicitly denies biblical salvation history pointing toward the culmination of the Incarnation of God the Son into this world for our salvation
- he disparages the person of Jesus by demoting him as “one of the prophets” without any corrective from Christians present
- the liturgy he leads is woven from Qur’anic passages, with no Biblical input
Elaas concludes his blog by observing that:
Many liberal Presbyterians have castigated evangelicals for leaving the denomination over the diminished place accorded Jesus in the life of the PCUSA. The theological left says this is nonsense, that the PCUSA still stands for the unique lordship of Jesus, and for the truth that salvation is uniquely through him. But if the denomination lets stand this travesty, they will show once and for all that their words have no meaning.
Now, it is important to note that following receipt of a letter of protest from 25 Korean commissioners, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly issued an apology that some were offended – but he not apologize for the offense itself.
Those who were holding out hope that the PCUSA’s commitment to Jesus Christ was exclusive, need hope no longer. And the “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” document to which they continuously point as evidence of their commitment is on the same dusty shelf as the 1991 Evangelism document this GA denied to celebrate.
Fall out: Per Capita is going up
After all the financial implications of the assembly’s action were taken into account, the PMA is saddled with absorbing more than $450K in new programming demands without any identification by the assembly of new funding sources. Other measures approved by the assembly will be offset by increasing per capita assessments — a per member tax — by 17 cents in 2017 and 18 cents in 2018.
In context, per capita rose a full dollar in the six years from 2011 to 2017 — and $1.58 in the eight years from 2010 to 2018.
- 2010 $6.15/member of the PCUSA
- 2011 $6.50
- 2017 $7.50
- 2018 $7.73
Per capita increases are driven by two inversely related forces: rising budgets and falling membership. And while the GA rejected evangelism, the OGA projected year over year membership losses through 2020 of an additional 400,000 members.
Seven or eight dollars per member may not sound like a lot of money but by the time synods and presbyteries attach their per-capita demands, local churches are expected to pay $30-40/member. In a time when more than half of the denomination’s 9,800 congregations are already financially distressed, the per capita increase is not going to come as welcome news from the assembly.
It’s difficult to see how the decisions of this most recent GA — which were largely socially progressive — help those struggling congregations that are overwhelming white, rural, small and aging.
Indeed, there were many other actions taken at the assembly — Jerry Andrews preached a fine sermon, organizations held lunches, seminaries held receptions, course was reversed on synod reorganization, a commission was created to deal with institutional structural demise, and again, apologies were issued to many groups wronged by the denomination throughout time. But in the end, little was done that will better enable local congregations to reach their neighbors with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the way that the Church throughout the ages has defined it.
The next meeting of the General Assembly will be held in St. Louis, Mo. in the summer of 2018. By then, this year’s shadow of things past will be longer still.
Carmen, thank you for this recap. Very helpful and well written. The one piece of good news from the 222nd GA: The national news media was not present to celebrate the PCUSA’s continued slide into apostasy.
FWIIW, per capita here in my NE Presbytery is almost at $50— already.
Jerry Andrews preached a fine sermon = a delicious meal was enjoyed, right before the ship hit an iceberg. The bigger question is, why are people like Jerry Andrews still on the Titanic?
The secular media did not cover events at GA because 1) PCUSA is now too small to have any influence over anything and 2) this denomination is now a reflection of secular culture rather than a lamp on a stand. I wonder if anyone else who attended GA has noticed the lack of media coverage much less figured out why that was. It seems odd to me that GA commissioners fight so hard about what agendas to push when the people they are trying to push aren’t paying any attention to them.
Considering all the money extorted from the many congregations leaving for more Bible-based Presbyterian denominations, it’s surprising PCUSA needs to raise per capita. They should be rolling in dough!
Memo to the PCUSA from the real world: WE DON’T CARE!
The PCUSA always uses words that mean one thing to Christians and something entirely different to the Louisville crowd. (Yes, I went there, but Machen went there ahead of me.) “Evangelism” is just the latest addition – and I’m not sure it’s a new addition.
The PCA grew by over 14,000 in 2015 while we in the PCUSA lost around 90,000 in the same period, one has to ask, what are they doing right and what are we doing wrong. Grant some of this is just cleaning up church records, but it’s much deeper than that. And that was confirmed by this GA. It’s only going to get worse, because frankly the louisville muslim praying sluggers don’t care who leaves the pcusa, as long as they leave the door keys and bank account numbers, and that’s being proved by lehigh presbytery in their dishonest treatment of First Presbyterian.
If anything, this GA will hasten the departure of Bible believing churches. I knew this GA would be one for the record books, but the opening by a muslim was slap in the face by Parsons to the rest of us who still believe the Bible, and he knew exactly what he was doing.
As far as secular press coverage at this GA, you would not be able to tell the difference between the world and the present state of the pcusa if you are outside the pcusa, because the secular mind set now controls most of the of the pcusa.
Of course the per capita goes up, they had to pay $33,000 an hour for a week long meeting?!?
After 49 years of pastoring in the PCUSA, I’m now happily retired as a PCA minister. Thanks to the Layman for being my one source of the real news from the USA for all these years. But now you remind me of the Japanese soldiers who continued to appear from the tunnels of Iwo Jima long after the war was over, ready to continue fighting. In the PCA, I have found the Presbyterian Church in which I was baptized, nurtured, and ordained so many years ago.
Just as a point of reference/correction, the 25th Anniversary of the denomination’s evangelism statement “Turn to the Living God” was celebrated, and it was republished for this Assembly.
It wasn’t done on the floor of the Assembly, but it was done at an event that was attended by the co-moderators.
Perhaps a fund can be established to preserve some of the important Presbyterian edifices, similar to the Shaker villages.
If the PCUSA cannot believe the Bible is “fire-breathed”, do not wish to work on the Great Commission, and seem to be troubled by saying the only way to salvation is through Jesus; can we even be considered a Christian Church? I would say NO!
I love the Evangelical Presbyterian Church I call home!
In Malachi 2, God promises to remove the prestige the priests had in the eyes of the people. Why? Because they had abandoned the truth of His word and we’re teaching lies. Is it any wonder the same thing is happening in the PCUSA? I’m grateful that God is faithful to His word, even when we’re not!
More than ever before, especially symbolized by Said’s enabled blasphemy, the PCUSA proves over and over and over that it is irretrievably apostate under current management.
While parts of the remnant still remain Matthew 7:24-27 firm in a Joshua 24:14-15 kinda way, I believe our Lord has already removed the lampstand from the franchise.
For those who have separated themselves from this nightmare and ask why some trying to be faithful still stay, I go back to a mentor Hans Evans.
Back in 1979, less than two years after I was ordained, I could see the handwriting on the wall; especially after the San Diego GA. I told Hans that I thought I had made a mistake by being ordained in one of the forerunners of the current apostate PCUSA. He said, “Stay! It is one of the mission fields still open to us today!”
So I have.
I consider myself to be a missionary to the PCUSA.
Day by day, the land seems stranger, the attacks grow more fierce, and I am wondering if I will exercise a spiritual gift used only once.
One wonders what it will take to have the high and mighty (?) bureaucrats of the PCUSA and their deluded followers understand that they may think they are leading but look around…no one is following.
Drop the financial punishment of leaving the once proud and significant denomination and the churches will flood out like a break in a dam. So very sad.
Thank you Carmen for keeping us informed. Thanks to Mateen as well for his explanation. My concern is one of communicating to the congregations all that the PCUSA GA practices and beliefs. If the liberal god embraced by most of the pcusa was the real god then all that happens would be accurately and joyfully communicated to the people in the pews. That is not the case, I’ve seen a few reports that will reach congregations in which there is nothing of what your article says, or if any thing is mentioned it is a totally different story. The truth is not reaching the congregations. Thus, I lovingly say to pastors in the PCUSA who are still faithful to the one and only true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one and only Redeemer of God’s people, to let God’s people accurately know all that is going on and do not become part of the hidden lies of a liberal god. There is only one God and to Him alone is our alliance regardless of the cost. Yes, I am lovingly telling whoever is listening, that the liberal god is no god at all, the liberal Jesus is no god at all, the liberal spirit is no God at all. The only true and living God is the same yesterday, today and forever and He reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures. I say this out of Christian love, so that those who think they are all alone will realize that they are not, I say this out of Christian love for those that are afraid to speak the true Word of God. I say this out of Christian love to call all those that are worshipping a false god to repentance and this way experience the salvation that comes by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. May the Lord bless and protect His elect in the pcusa, in Jesus name, amen!
The GA was more like a political rally, or a local city council public hearing where every council member got together and made up their minds on issues before the meeting started. Now they’re off to Philadelphia to meet soul mates at the Democrat Convention; and attending all the leftist parties/receptions/fundraisers hosted by special interest groups.
One wonders if the Layman considers Arabic speaking Christians to be praying to the “God and Father Of our Lord Jesus” when they pray to Allah.
The property clause reminds me of the Berlin Wall. It was designed to keep people from escaping oppression and finding freedom. Those who built the wall could not afford to let people escape because they needed them for labor. PCUSA needs people for their money.
One wonders if Ben Daniel considers American Muslims to be praying to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when they pray to “God”.
When an Christian in the Middle East prays to Allah, they are praying to the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When a Muslim prays to Allah, it is not the same god as that of Christians, as the excerpts from Rev. Mateen Elass’ blog specifically points out.
Not sure what the Layman considers Ben Daniel. But my church left the PCUSA in the last year or so. So that means we don’t worry about Allah-hooray Akbar or Sophia or rainbow banners on a cross anymore. I guess we’ve “come out of the world loving closet”?
I heard a wise pastor once say “If you think you’re a leader, but no one is following you, you’re just taking a walk”.