PCUSA Departs Orthodoxy

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. voted yesterday to allow the ordination of actively homosexual clergy, taking another step away from historic Christian orthodoxy.

This is a sad day for all the good, godly people in PCUSA churches who will suffer displacement due to the pernicious actions of false teachers and aberrant presbyteries. While this does not come as a surprise (the PCUSA has been tending this direction for years), it does come as a slap in the face to biblically orthodox, gospel-minded Presbyterians who have been praying and longing for renewal within that denomination. A good friend of mine who serves in the PCUSA emailed me today to inform me that he’s tendering his resignation this week because of this decision. He anticipates that this Sunday, his church may lose up to half its congregation as people depart the denomination in droves.

We enjoy a good relationship with a number of PCUSA churches in Omaha and are sad to see their governing body take this step. We encourage the pastors and members in those churches to take decisive action rather than contenting themselves with the type of weak rhetorical posturing evident in the PCUSA’s own statement:

as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another. We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit… It is Jesus Christ who calls individuals to ordained ministries, and all those who are called to ordained office continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all and Head of the church. It is this same Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our faith and to whom we cling.

The book of Revelation would insist that there is another ‘spirit’ at work underneath this decision: one who “makes war on those who keep the commandments of God” (Rev 12:17) and “utters haughty and blasphemous words” (Rev 13:5). Calling for unity in Jesus’ name when a church has departed from biblical fidelity is tantamount to blasphemy. And it’s clear that all who are ordained do NOT “continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all and Head of the church,” unless we import whatever meaning we want into the words “Lord” and “Head.”

Yet another reason we need to be resolute about the work of planting faithful, orthodox, gospel-centered churches.


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  1. Bob, is there any data that shows where the declination (or eventual death) of churches and/or denominations parallels with unorthodox decisions such as allowing homosexual clergy? In other words, has any church actually grown due to moves towards unorthodoxy?

    Maybe the Bible answers this question in Revelation 2-3 when Jesus removes lampstands from churches because of adhering to false teaching and being unrepentant.

  2. As an institution, they probably came unhitched from orthodoxy years (decades?) ago, and this is just one more wheel coming off the proverbial cart. It is unfortunately very difficult for a congregation to leave the PC(USA) without getting into potentially thorny church property issues.

    The apostles certainly saw the danger–both internal and external–that has always faced the church, and Peter gives us this exhortation:
    “Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Pet 3:17-18)

  3. Re: liberalism and church growth…The rapid decline in mainline liberal denominations has been happening for at least fifty years (see the 1972 “Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion,” by Dean Kelley). But, I would be careful to use numbers to claim that one church is being punished and/or blessed by God for right belief…after all, the fastest growing churches in the U.S. include the Mormon Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also, the main thing that fast-growing churches worldwide seem to have in common is theological rigor, demanding expectations placed on members, and strict definitions of who is “in” and who is “out.”

    It’s also important to remember that the fastest growing religious category in the U.S. is the “Nones”…as the mainline liberal churches decline, their conservative members simply jump ship to an evangelical church (the whole “shuffling the seats on the Titanic” metaphor that church planters claim they want to avoid) while those who are not inclined towards conservative ideology simply abandon organized religion completely. In other words, a lot of church growth for conservative denominations happens not necessarily through conversion, but rather through transfer.

    Finally, my last point in this long-winded post: I have yet to see a study that provides definitive statistics on the theological beliefs of evangelical churches. The nondenominational, evangelical churches are growing…but we are not really categorizing all of them according to the doctrines that they hold to. The mainline denominations have doctrinal statements that must be adhered to, and can be easily analyzed…the evangelical non-denominational churches are usually much more open and less rigid on doctrinal statements, and there are so many of them that it is difficult to categorize and analyze them all. More studies need to be done to figure out exactly where the evangelical churches stand on issues like homosexual clergy.

    All that to say, as I think Dr. John Hannah would, that we must simply be faithful followers of Jesus. Numbers are valuable in understanding societal and cultural trends, but ultimately I think they can be deceptive when it comes to deciding who is “doing things right.”

  4. I wouldn’t categorize the Mormons and JWs part of THE Church. They were never founded on Orthodoxy, so their growth is due to deceiving people with arguments, not ignoring truth and wavering from Orthodoxy.

  5. I agree with you for the most part, but that’s beside the point. My main point is that the reason mainline Protestant churches are declining should not be seen as an automatic indicator that their theological decisions are the cause of their decline. It’s a very dangerous road to go down historically to associate membership numbers with God’s favor and/or rebuke. Even if you look at the ten biggest evangelical churches in America today, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar’s churches are the biggest, and four of the top ten feature female pastors, which I think most @ Coram Deo probably say is on par w/ openly gay pastors being ordained.

    I bring in the growth of JW’s and Mormons only to make the point that most conservative religions that have strict standards and rigid doctrine, even those outside of “orthodox Christianity,” are seeing growth at the expense of the mainline denominations.

  6. “the [fact that] mainline Protestant churches are declining should not be seen as an automatic indicator that their theological decisions are the cause of their decline” – a true and excellent point from the perspective of good sociological research.

    But the ‘man on the street’ perspective – the anecdotal evidence – certainly points to some association between the two, and I think a link exists. See also the recent post on why Catholics are leaving the RC church and where they are going.

    FYI, I don’t necessarily think anyone is associating membership numbers with God’s favor or rebuke. At least that was not my intent in this post.

    Women pastors on par with gay ordination? I think not. Slippery slope, perhaps, but not the same.

    Your point, Paul, is exactly the same one that Tim Keller makes: what is on the rise is secularism (the “nones”) and conservative religious belief; what is in decline is the ‘mushy middle.’ See http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/05/the-death-of-the-mushy-middle

  7. Hi Bob, Just thought you might be interested in my prophetic letter in 1990 when I resigned from the PC(USA)…

    I also just wrote an appeal for those still in the denomination to consider leaving as a witness and why most reasons for staying behind are futile:

    I can understand why you might have to argue for the truth to unbelievers, but not inside the “church,” if it still can be called that.

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