Sunday, July 4, 2010

So Sugary Sweet, My Teeth Hurt!

The question was asked of attendees at the PCUSA General Assembly, "What are your hopes for General Assembly?"

Fascinating. Revealing. I see a dead and dying denomination, and it makes me sad.


  1. I am part of a PCUSA congregation which is in the process of moving to the EPC. The EPC is not perfect, but it's a big improvement over the PCUSA.

    The PCUSA is an easy mark for Reformed folks to take shots at. There have been so many bad decisions over the last 80 years or so, it's a wonder they (we) survive at all. The situation reminds me of a comment I heard recently from Matt Slick on his CARM podcast: "All it takes for things to get screwed up are two things: people and time." He is right. The story of the PCUSA's decline ought to be a cautionary tale for all denominations, Reformed or not. To paraphrase Jefferson: "The price of orthodoxy is eternal vigilance."

    Yet from the video clip, the comments we heard do not, in and of themselves, present a denomination in decline. Yes, we heard lots of platitudes, but you could get similar comments at even the most conservative of Christian gatherings. Many of the "White Horse Inn" episodes feature "Man On The Street" interviews with people at conservative Bible colleges, or at General Assembly-type meetings of supposedly conservative denominations. A simple question is asked, like, "What is the Gospel?" And you get all sorts of weird answers, some more wrong than others.

    I would predict that you could get similar comments from delegates at any General Assembly, be it OPC, PCA, or what have you. Nothing that anyone said on the video was unbiblical or unChristian. You really can't tell from the video what the depth of each person's commitment to Biblical orthodoxy really is. What I see on the video are people who are created in God's image, who, as far as we can tell, are trying to be faithful representatives of Christ at their GA.

    Sure, I would like to have seen folks say things like, "I would like our seminaries to teach inerrancy," or "I think presbyteries ought to de-frock pastors who deny the bodily resurrection," etc. But sadly, many folks in the PCUSA don't see the need to make waves over these vital issues. And for that, folks from the PCA, OPC, etc., are rightly concerned.

    But all denominations are 'dying' to some degree, as long as sinful people are members. It just so happens that in the PCUSA, we have gone for so many decades without requiring our ministers to believe the essentials of the faith, that we are 'dying' more than most denominations.

    I am starting to ramble, so I'll close with this thought: Folks in the PCUSA are people made in God's image, and we ought to pray that God has mercy on them individually and corporately, and grants them the will and the means to restore their once-great body to conformity with His will and purposes.

  2. In some ways, I feel bad, John. Because you're right; the PCUSA isn't all bad, and the people in it aren't all bad. And I'm even willing to bet that there are people in the PCUSA who are more reformed in their theology than a whole lot of us.

    But you're right; the PCUSA is a very easy target for us Reformed types. I certainly do regard the PCUSA as a cautionary tale for us. In fact, Josh and I were just talking today about how the tendency of every denomination that is conservative is to move towards liberalism and abandoning inerrancy and "widening the tent" as it were. Resisting these tendencies is a worthwhile struggle, but it is a fight against gravity, as it were. In fact, the more recent PCA decisions at our most recent GA cause one to pause and think with reference to the PCUSA, "There but for the grace of God go I."

    It is not out of the question that in 50 years, the PCA is in the same position as the PCUSA is today. What it takes is fellows in all generations to love and treasure the essentials and to demand them in our own churches and presbyteries. There are no easy solutions, and I'm sorry if I seemed frivolous or silly in my comments about the attendees in this video.

    But you are right; the answers these people gave didn't show them to be bad or wrong; it just showed where their priorities were.

  3. I didn't mean to make you feel bad, Adam. Your comments were not out of line. I just thought a little expansion was in order.

    Your comment, "It is not out of the question that in 50 years, the PCA is in the same position as the PCUSA is today. What it takes is fellows in all generations to love and treasure the essentials and to demand them in our own churches and presbyteries," is exactly on point. It is true that Christianity is more than the essentials, such as the bodily resurrection, the substitutionary atonement, the virgin birth, etc. But on the other hand, neither is Christianity *less* than those essentials.

    Who in the PCUSA, in 1925, would have thought that their church could so quickly drift into apostasy? Not many, I would bet. But all it took was the Scopes Trial to discredit fundamentalists and cause the balance of power to shift in favor of the liberals.

    So I thank the Lord there are young reformed folks like you, Adam, who are willing to identify themselves with the true Gospel. You have an excellent website. Great articles. I check "Bring the Books" several times a week. It's one of the better Reformed sites, I think.

    God's peace,


  4. I had not thought of the cultural impact that the Scopes trial might have had on the PCUSA. Not being a PCUSA historian myself, that is a very interesting insight. I'm going to chew on that for the rest of the day.

    Thanks for reading, John.

  5. Yes, the Scopes Trial discredited fundamentalists in all denominations, including the PCUSA, enabling the GA to reorganize the board of directors at Princeton so that the neo-orthodox rose to power.

    The analysis is not original to me. I got it from a little book by PCUSA clergyman Jack Rogers, called "A Guide To The Book Of Confessions." As you may know, the PCUSA has the Westminster Standards in their Book of Confessions (fat lot of good it does, since it's little studied or referenced), as well as a half-dozen other confessions, including the feel-good "Confession of 1967." Back in the 60s', some PCUSA liberals wanted to totally ditch the Westminster Standards, in favor of C67. The WC was so outdated -- it referred to creation in six days, it referred to Adam as a real historical person, it referred to original sin, and substitutionary atonement, and on and on. Liberals just could not abide it. So the plan was to write a new confession (C67) and ditch the old one. But the conservatives still had a little clout back then, and they would not allow this change. So the compromise was to retain the WC, add C67 to the standards, and also include a laundry list of other Reformed confessional documents.

    (All this is detailed in the Rogers book. Rogers is a former evangelical, and now is firmly allied with the pro-gay-ordination forces. A sad story.)

    So the end result is that we (they) have so many confessions, that we end up studying none of them. Too many -- just can't keep it all straight. There's an old saying: "Keep it simple, stupid!" among salesmen, and it's true! It was (is) a case of confessional TMI.

    During our present shift to the EPC, the Westminster Confession, and its ideas of predestination and election, was introduced to our membership. Many of our members (not me, I've been hard-core Reformed since I was briefly a member of a PCA church in the 80s) were shocked to learn what Presbyterians historically have believed about God's sovereignty, and man's depravity. I was cheering on the process, because it showed the rest of the congregation that I was not crazy, and these really were Presbyterian ideas.

    But the Scopes Trial, according to Rogers and other historians, did provide the watershed moment for the tipping of the scales in favor of the liberals. William Jennings Bryan, as you probably know, argued against evolution in the trial, but was cut to pieces by Clarence Darrow. Bryan apparently was not familiar enough with the particular challenges that evolutionists had made against the Biblical account of creation. And Bryan was also the moderator of the PCUSA GA -- can't remember what year(s). There's an excellent article on the Answers in Genesis website about the Scopes Trial and Bryan's failure to adequately represent the Biblical side of things.

    Gotta close -- keep posting your great stuff, Adam.

  6. Sorry, John.

    Hope this doesn't make it past the presbyteries.

  7. Yes, I saw that news item yesterday. There is still a faithful remnant in the PCUSA, and who knows, maybe the presbyteries will reject this. I am not optimistic, however.

    Even if this is rejected, however, the momentum is still with the liberals. Humanly speaking, it appears that it's only a matter of time before gay ordination will be the order of the day in the PCUSA.

    And even if this is rejected, the root problem remains. The root problem is not that PCUSA members are more willing than most to accept gay ordination. The root problem is that over the past 80 years, the PCUSA has not been willing to exercise church discipline against those members who have strayed from Scripture and the confessions. On paper, if you look at the PCUSA's Book of Confessions, we are the most God-loving, most reformed people on the planet. But the Book of Confessions does not do us any good if we are not willing to hold our leaders to the standards set in them.

  8. Crossed Fingers is a thorough read as to what happened to the PCUSA

    It is free here:

    The easist way to find is to click on books by author

  9. I'm totally going to read that. Thanks, James.

  10. Holy cow, James! That is a long book! I put it on my Kindle, and I'll be done with it in six months. But I swear, I really am going to read it.


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