By Peter Johnson, Juicy Ecumenism.
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.
“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.”
This is by no means news. The whole reason that the Westminster Standards were replaced in 1967 by the Book of Confessions, and why the corresponding ordination vow was watered down from “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” to “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God” (thus rendering the Adopting Act of 1729 null and void) is because Presbyterian ministers who bought into the doctrines of Theological Liberalism no longer could in good conscience maintain their ordination vows with respect to the Scriptures or the Confessions. So rather than doing the honorable thing and resigning their ordination, they watered down the denomination’s theological commitment requirements of its officers in order to be more amenable to their heresies. And that, in large measure, is why the PC(USA) is in such dire straits today.
Loren Golden writes,
“So rather than doing the honorable thing and resigning their ordination, they watered down the denomination’s theological commitment requirements of its officers in order to be more amenable to their heresies. And that, in large measure, is why the PC(USA) is in such dire straits today.”
And, this is posted to the PCUSA Lay Committee web site. You have to wonder how a critic would put it.
He is wrong about one thing…at least in our case (I am an elder and we are going through ‘discernment’). At the end there will NOT be a vote by the congregation. We have been told that is not even something congregations can vote and decide in this denomination, according to the book of order. (they can only vote and decide on pastors, on taking on debt, and one or two other things I can’t remember). Only the presbytery can vote and decide whether to allow a church to be dismissed or disolved. YES, that is exactly what we have been told as being correct. Our congreagtion will NOT have a vote on it.
This is reply to Common Tater, my church also told me that there will not be any vote by the congregation. I feel helpless with no control over the outcome.
When Colonial Presbyterian in Kansas City was in its discernment process five years ago, there were two votes:
The first was in the form of a non-binding survey mailed to the homes of all the members of the church, and 91.2% of the respondents said that Colonial should not remain affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), whereas only 8.8% said that it should.
The second was a congregational meeting called after Heartland Presbytery refused to enter into negotiations with Colonial for the terms of separation. It was called for the express purpose of determining whether or not Colonial should terminate its voluntary affiliation / association with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and if so, whether or not it should voluntarily affiliate / associate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Colonial had to obtain a TRO in both Kansas and Missouri (Colonial has property in both states) to keep Heartland Presbytery from attempting to seize Colonial’s property and assets and from any attempt to interfere with the called congregational meeting. Colonial voted 97.2% to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and 96.9% to affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. (For the record, I voted with the majority in both votes.)
There was a court battle, but the Missouri Circuit and Appellate Courts decided on neutral principles that Colonial’s property belongs to Colonial (the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear Heartland’s appeal, letting the lower court rulings stand), and the Kansas District Court deferred the matter to the Missouri court, inasmuch as Colonial was incorporated as a Missouri NPO.
Maybe God is in control?
In our case we were also told, since day 1, that there would be no congregational vote.
One problem with the “dissolution solution:” it places the Presbytery fully in charge of any unpaid balance on the mortgage plus fully responsible for the upkeep of the property and building. Do you know any member of a Presbytery’s Trustees or a Presbytery Exec who is willing to shovel snow, cut grass, and trim bushes? Can most (or any) presbyteries shoulder the additional financial responsibility of any unpaid mortgages?
If you want to see the desperate thrashings about of a dying organism, look at the new so called “gracious” dismissal policy of the Sacramento Presbytery. My heart goes out to those churches who did not leave while it was possible – Auburn (Journey), Chico (Bidwell), Burney and others I don’t know about. I had no doubt what the outcome would be when I saw the majority of the members of the committee created to “revise” the old policy by the departing Moderator Lori Sprinkle. It is a sad, sad time for Christians in this area. May God forgive their sins.
What we need now is not a divided church but a strong unified church. There is a hurting world out there. They need to hear the good news about Jesus Christ.