Thursday, November 30, 2006

Finding the "True" Church

Today’s Layman Online (pause for boos and hisses from “true church” Presbyterians) had an editorial that clearly defined what is now happening in the EOP Administrative Commission process. The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery has received our list of members and addresses and is preparing a letter that will invite your response. The response that they want is from people opposed to the decision we made to leave the PCUSA--anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason.

It doesn’t matter if such “members” have moved to another part of the country or if they have joined another church. It doesn’t matter if such folk intend to attend, give, or support the Kirk in any other way. The presbytery will be satisfied just to have a body count.
In a North Carolina case, the body was 3,000 miles away. It belonged to a Presbyterian who moved from the East Coast but had not taken his name off the local church’s membership list. Nonetheless, a presbytery contacted the exile and asked him to state his opposition to the congregation’s decision to leave the PCUSA. He did. Number him now among the “true church.”
The Layman accurately describes this process as a “scavenger hunt.” The article points out that the tiny minority of the Kirk membership opposed to our disaffiliation (3%) is sufficient for them to lay claim to the property, thereby casting out the 97% who are the ONLY people who comprise Kirk of the Hills today.

As the Layman editorial says, “Frankly, it’s laughable about how the denomination’s leaders define the “true church” in today’s turmoil. The disgruntled and the absent are high on the list.”

The article details what happens if a “true church” is found and, in our case, if the court agrees with the Presbytery.
  • That tiny group of people gets the church property.
  • Two or three people are enough to constitute a “true” church.
  • If there are enough people, they struggle to minimally operate the property, keeping the “true” church alive only as long as they are.
  • If there are not enough people to pay the bills, the presbytery sells the property, keeping the cash.
This is the worst kind of stewardship. It would be a pyrrhic victory for the denomination, like an operation where the surgery was “successful” yet the patient died.

As bad as it would be if the Kirk lost the legal battle, it would not be the end of the world for us. The Layman article cites the case of a Presbyterian church in Findlay, Ohio, which asked for dismissal in 2002.
… the presbytery fired the pastor, conducted a night-time raid to change the locks, cleared out the pastor’s office and took over the property. Ever since, a small number of “true church” members – some recruited by the presbytery from other venues – has held services. They average about 41 a Sunday, compared to 350 to 400 before the “schismatics were turned over to Caesar,” as the denomination’s once-secret legal strategy phrases it.

Meanwhile, there remains a “true church” in Findlay. It consists of those who voted to leave the denomination and reorganize as Gateway Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After having to meet in a kennel the first Sunday after the presbytery raid, they have nearly completed a $3.5-million building. And membership is booming where the gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and discipline is used to hold members and leaders accountable to Christ.
While this denominational process is a farce, the power of Jesus Christ is anything but. I do worry about the property issue for us since I want the property best used to the glory of Jesus Christ. We’ll continue to be the church, doing the ministry we’ve done for 45 years. If we end up having to move, we’ll do the ministry from there.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

4 comments:

Dick Leader said...

Dick Leader says: I was born and raised in Findlay, Ohio many years ago. This stirs many fond memories of the three Presbyterians I buddied with throughout my formative youth.

Anonymous said...

Tom:

I sent the following off to about 60 GA Council members today and thought I should provide the Kirk with a copy:

General Assembly Council November 30, 2006

I suppose the first question to answer is why I am writing to all the members of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church, USA? Let me set the stage. I am 75 years of age, male, college educated, active Presbyterian since age 10 and member of Kirk of the Hills Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma, until that Session followed by the congregation voted to disaffiliate from PCUSA by very significant majorities. Senior pastors at the Kirk used the passage of “Authoritative Interpretation,” contained in the Peace, Unity and Purity paper (217th GA), as the sledgehammer with session and congregation to move both bodies toward disaffiliation votes. Another ploy used by Kirk clergy and staff to influence members of session and congregants was emphasis on the hardball lobbying frequently observed being used by the Stated Clerk and his Louisville staff to promote, fund and/or initiate programs near and dear to some but anathema to many of us occupying pews in the hinterland.

I agree that the AI is wrong because it presents us with a slippery slope covered with potholes for future schisms. Furthermore, I agree with the Kirk that “Louisville” is often more of a lobbying office than a servant office supporting the entire PCUSA. If I agree with the principal reasoning behind the Kirk’s action, why did I spend most of 2005 and 2006, up until the votes to change bylaws and disaffiliate, trying to convince Kirk leadership to seek change within the governance of the Book of Order rather than take rash actions; why did I withdraw from the Kirk following the vote to disaffiliate; and, why am I writing to each of you? Why Indeed?

Most of you, if not all, are theologically trained and know far better than this layman the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ. However, I will venture onto the field and try to explain the “whys” I have raised. First, let me emphasize that I firmly believe it is far more important for me to be a Christian than for me to be a Presbyterian. I had to make that clear to some members at the Kirk when I dared to disagree.

My concern always has been what effect our public debate broadcast worldwide over the Internet has on others in our church or denomination, or in some other church or denomination, or on those that remain on the sidelines uncommitted to Christ in any way. Corrosive negatives we spew forth have so much more ill effect on people around us than do the positives. This is best captured in the words of G. K. Chesterton:

“...while the eye that can perceive what are the wrong things increases in
an uncanny and devouring clarity, the eye which sees what things are right is growing mistier and mistier every moment, till it goes almost blind with
doubt.”

We all recognize a PCUSA membership loss of over 300,000 from 1995 to 2005. Is this normal attrition or are we driving members away by constantly roiling the still waters with one controversy after another? When the Kirk of the Hills disaffiliated the Presbyterian Church USA instantaneously lost over 2,500 members. If these Kirk members and like-minded people leaving the denomination because they are fed up with the rancor and discord become safely ensconced in another valid Christian institution, then no great harm is done. However, I believe a percentage of those who leave under these conditions are completely disgusted and never darken another church door and it is troubling to think that I am even partly to blame for just one soul turning his or her back on Christ. Recall all that Christ said in the 15th chapter of Luke regarding loss – loss of one sheep out of ninety-nine; or loss of one coin; or loss of one son. We should be about attracting people into our churches and then nurturing all who come under Christ’s realm of influence – not dividing the House of God and giving one side or the other every possible reason to leave.

You on the GAC are in a leadership position to take some control over divisiveness that plagues our Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and General Assembly. I know the Book of Order does not allow things to be done unilaterally and everything must be done decently and in order. However, sound management and a firm hand might do wonders to curb troubles before they get out of hand and cause more churches to publicly disaffiliate with much fanfare or unknown thousands of members to silently disappear without a whimper.

My wife and I have both felt considerable pain and loss in our withdrawal from the Kirk congregation following thirty-one years of membership. We have friends that have done as we have done, and we still have many friends that have remained at the Kirk. We sincerely hope and pray that no one else has to make such an election in any Christian church or denomination. Now, when I drive by the Kirk I remember Christ wept when Lazarus died. Fortunately, I also remember that resurrection was on the horizon and indeed is still possible today. Hopefully, your help will transform our Presbyterian Church back into the beacon on the hill it once was. God bless us all in this time of turmoil.

Kindest regards,

William E. Diggs

Cc: Kirk of the Hills

person in the pew said...

To William E. Diggs,

You sound like a fine Christian gentleman who has some genuine concerns about the actions taken by Kirk of the Hills. However, I must respectfully disagree with your position.

You wrote "My concern always has been what effect our public debate broadcast worldwide over the Internet has on others in our church or denomination..."

I do not attend Kirk of the Hills. I attend a very conservative PCUSA church in a very liberal area. I can tell you that for me it has been a great comfort to read the words of lay people, elders, and pastors who are willing to stand in opposition to what is going on in the PCUSA and, if necessary, take action to stop it.

I personally was beginning to despair as I read about the actions of the GA this past summer, and as I delved futher into the history of things that have been going on in the denomination for quite some time now. I am so grateful that I came across the blogs of faithful Christians such as Tom's Thoughts, Classical Presbyterian, Bayou Christian, Truth in Love Network, to name just a few. These fine Christians have given hope to many of us out in the hinterlands of the PCUSA....those of us who just want to raise our families in churches that are faithful to God, to the Bible, and to our Christian heritage.

TomGray said...

Dear Bill,
Thanks for your note. The worst thing about our disaffiliation was the hurt it caused people like you.

I know that you think that Wayne and I orchestrated the move away from the PCUSA. Many elders, past and present, would disagree vehemently. Up until the last 18mo or so, Wayne and I argued to stay in the PCUSA.

I agree that there needs to be better management of the denomination, but this is just a part of the cure needed. The PCUSA needs to make a bold assessment of what it chooses to believe. If it continues to be indistinct in its theology and loose in its discipline it will decline even more rapidly.

There are groups of good pastors and elders arguing that the denomination simply needs to agree on a "missional" approach--another good thing. Yet it also is insufficient for true healing.

There really are at least two churches within the PCUSA: one believes in traditional values, the other doesn't. If the PCUSA were a political party, those differences could be accommodated. Since it is, and is meant to be, a moral force in the world, such disparity cannot continue.

I am sorry that you and Wauhilla are gone from us. You are always welcome back.
Tom