“They left the presbytery because they believed that the Presbyterian Church is the Titanic. And if you’re on the Titanic, the best thing that you can do is get off the Titanic….”Trying to Make Things Right
“I believe that if you use the analogy of a ship [and] there is a fire in the engine room, in the boiler, and if you have a crisis in the engine room you don’t need to have people getting off the ship, you need to have people getting in the boiler room and beginning to put things right.”
“Beginning to put things right?” Where were Jim and others in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery during the fight against the Re-imagining scandal? When the Kirk session withheld denominational funds, Jim came and talked with our session, downplaying the problem and assuring us that it was just a group of “academics” acting up, as if it were nothing important.
Where were Jim and the others seven years ago when hundreds of evangelical pastors and elders met in Denver to strategize ways of moving the PCUSA back onto a Biblical course? Where were Jim and others at other open meetings concerned evangelical pastors have held every year after 1991?
I have a serious problem with Jim’s subtle assertion that the Kirk has shirked its responsibility to work on correcting the problems in the PCUSA (fight the “fire in the boiler room”). I, Wayne, and a significant number of our elders attended many General Assemblies and were participants and officers in various renewal groups. We’ve met with denominational officials over the years, written letters and articles, caucused with sessions and pastors of like mind, and generally have invested a tremendous amount of time and treasure in trying to turn the ship back on course.
I’ve spent at least two weeks of every year since 1991 devoted to addressing the PCUSA’s wayward course. I’ve made hundreds of phone calls in that service. I hesitate to compute the tens of thousands of miles I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. working with others in an effort to redirect the denomination. I’ve taken stands that have made me unpopular at home, and I’ve had to hear the general presbyter complain about people like me who are “at the extreme” for wanting the denomination to remain true to its traditional beliefs.
Jim has now awakened to the problem. I am aware that he attended the Global Mission conference this last year, but the problem in the PCUSA goes way back and has had people like us agonizing about what we saw and foresaw for many, many years. I remain unconvinced that an emphasis on “being missional” at this late date—and in a denomination that has increasingly ignored mission—will turn the ship around.
The Analogy of the Titanic
The analogy is just wrong. We don’t think that the PCUSA is in imminent danger of sinking, nor did we leave in fear of that. We also do not believe that the problem is a “fire in the boiler room.” The problem is at the ship’s bridge.
The ship of PCUSA is heading in the wrong direction even though it has a clear map of where it is supposed to go, found in Scripture and in the denomination’s confessions. Sometime between 1950 and today, in the denominations from whence the PCUSA was formed, there was a very slow and subtle mutiny. Those opposed to the direction of Scripture gained control of the rudder.
Many of us thought that the problem might be that the correct course change orders were somehow muddled and could be clarified. That’s what we worked on so hard and for so long. We came to find (at the GA in June, 2006) that the wrong orders are being given from the top. Not only that, but every location in the ship—sessions and presbyteries—are now given permission to issue orders completely contrary to the course directions indicated on the map.
If I had paid fare to travel, say, from New York to London, and found that the ship had, without permission or announcement, changed its course for Antarctica, I’d have good reason to get onto another ship—one going in the right direction. This is what the Kirk did when we disaffiliated. The fact that other churches (passengers) are willing to hope that the ship goes back to its rightful course is their business. We found that the officers on the bridge were deaf to our concerns, so we came to the conclusion that the rudder is now lashed in the wrong direction.
Good, sincere pastors like Jim who seem to have just awakened to taking the problems seriously are complaining that I and the Kirk are abandoning them. I wish him and others the best in continuing the fight if they so choose. But please don’t tell us that we have left the denomination (or them) in the lurch. For almost two decades we were at the forefront of dedicated, hard work trying to reform the PCUSA and, as far as the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery is concerned, we were alone.
Jim’s sermon comments parallel what he wrote the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery upon our disaffiliation. In that letter, he used an expanded metaphor, saying that we had “abandoned ship, taking the lifeboats.”
We certainly have left on our lifeboat, seeking a ship that is going to the destination Scripture indicates. For the duration of our struggle the EOP showed no desire to address our concerns or even show real concern for us. The PCUSA and the EOP now seem bent upon insisting that our lifeboat be returned to them empty, unconcerned that the Kirk congregation would be left adrift. Should that turn out to become truth, we are ready to tread water or swim for the nearest passing ship—but only if that ship is following the Scriptural map.
Jim ended his paragraph about us in his sermon with the comment, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it.” By this, I believe he meant (in our case) the perfect denomination. We agree that no such thing exists. But we do know that there are Reformed denominations, unlike the PCUSA, whose leaders and followers are struggling to keep the ship on the Lord’s course.
Keep praying—keep the faith,