This blog is consciously written with two audiences in mind: my own congregation and those who are generally interested in what is going on in the PCUSA. Today’s blog is primarily addressed to the former.
I make no secret of my frustration with what is going on in the PCUSA because as a pastor, I am deeply concerned with the PCUSA’s departure from long-held Biblical beliefs and practices. Some of you have expressed concern (to others, not to my face) that I am “bashing” the denomination. Some have even, so I’ve heard, said that I am making things appear worse than they are through “half-truths.” Neither one is true. I’m simply stating things as they are.
This is the denomination into which I was ordained—by choice, not family history, pressure, or anything else. Even now I believe that Presbyterian/Reformed theology is the best expression of what Scripture truly teaches. I believe that our organizational system (polity) is the best among all. Why, then, am I negative? I am so because our theology has been discarded and our polity gutted—as evidenced in the 271th GA’s ruling that individual sessions and presbyteries may declare beliefs and practices that the PCUSA has historically insisted are essential now to be “non-essential.”
Some of you, apparently, wish that I would say some good things about the PCUSA. I admit that the Presbyterian church has done much good. Individual congregations and presbyteries continue this tradition of blessing. But our national denomination has gone so wrong that this situation must be addressed.
Suppose that you went to a doctor who had had a wonderful reputation as a careful, scientific diagnostician. He was solely responsible for saving thousands of lives. More than that, he’s a nice person—you like him a lot.
But things of late have changed. Now he is consistently wrong in his diagnoses. People he once might have saved are now dying because he is simply wrong. More than that, he has begun to abandon traditional medicine (maybe this is why patients are dying) and has convinced a significant minority of his patients that the use of crystals and chants are more effective than antibiotics, surgery, or other typical medical procedures.
Would you continue to entrust your family’s health to him? Or would you say “We have to say good things about him because of the good he did in the past”? Would it be healthy to say “We need to stay with him out of loyalty”? Would it be appropriate to say “We’ll stick with him because we can ignore his unscientific medicine and treat ourselves”? Would it be more important to balance critical statements with positive ones, or would it be more important to save lives?
To me, this seems to be the kind of argument I’m hearing. Some believe that denominational loyalty is the highest good. And a number of churches are saying that they can do what they want on their own, so why should they be concerned about the denomination?
People have expressed the hope that we can change the problems from within. This is what hundreds of pastors and even more elders have struggled to do for the last 30 years. The problems haven’t improved; they’ve only worsened in that time.
Friends, it would be much easier for me to ignore what is going on in the PCUSA. I am eligible for retirement in just five years, so it would be easy to ride this out and leave the problem to my successors. We cannot be so short-sighted. What is happening in the PCUSA now will have long-term effects on all congregations in the denomination. Ignoring negative issues and saying what is positive might feel better for the moment, but it will in no way correct the problems we face. In fact, it will make the problems worse.