Monday, March 06, 2006

Those Bloody Presbyterians

I have mixed thoughts and feelings about the emergent church movement, but I read Mark Driscol's "Resurgence" blog. Mark is the pastor at Mar's Hill Church in Seattle.

This guy's posts almost always make me smile. Anyway, here's a very thought-provoking post about the contrast between big and small churches, liberal and conservative churches.

Lifted from. . . Those Bloody Presbyterians | Resurgence

Apparently a number of churches in the Presbyterian USA denomination are slowly bleeding out. While the denomination does have some godly pastors and churches that still believe the Bible and preach the gospel without wincing and apologizing, things don’t look good overall.

According to the guys with calculators at the denomination’s headquarters, membership loss for the denomination in 2005 was estimated at sixty-five thousand, followed by an eighty-five thousand projected loss in 2006. According to The Layman Online, “Both the projected losses in members in 2005 and 2006 would be higher than any prior year's downturn since the reunion of the northern and southern streams of the mainline denomination in 1983. The projected 2006 loss would represent a single-year decline of 3.7 percent, the highest percentage loss in the denomination's 216-year history.”

Curiously, no explanation was given for the continued decline of the denomination. Perhaps that is because such an explanation would require repentance for getting off track of the mission of the gospel to fight over such things as homosexuality and feminism. These cancers are eating away at many liberal denominations and are now spreading to younger emerging-type Christian networks caught driving around the same moral and theological cul-de-sacs that a previous generation wasted their life on while failing to do evangelism and plant churches.

While the truth will be received by some as warmly as water on a cat, the stats bear out that churches with a high view of Scripture, a high view of Jesus, and an ongoing call for people to repent of personal sin and trust in Jesus tend to grow while their counterparts do not. Why? Because there is power in the gospel, and the church has no power when it walks away from the gospel. As the PC-USA is discovering, churches marrying the spirit of the age instead of Jesus end up being widowed. The only hope is repentance, which is the key to all of the Christian life, and not merely another year of stats without an explanation, repentance, and a renewed sense of mission.

According to Lyle Schaller in The Very Large Church, there are multiple variables that help churches grow. The following eight variables are some of the most pertinent in light of this discussion:

1. Larger churches tend to have higher expectations for their members’ active participation than smaller churches.
2. Larger churches tend to be more conservative in theology and more liberal in practice, while smaller churches are often more liberal in theology and more conservative in outward practice (e.g., liturgy, hymns, and vestments).
3. Larger churches tend to be non-denominational and function as independent churches or as members of loosely affiliated networks.
4. Larger churches tend to present clear, authoritative teaching from Scripture while theological pluralism tends to thrive in smaller churches.
5. Larger churches are governed more by local leadership in the church while smaller churches often rely more on regional or national leadership for their direction.
6. Larger churches tend to have a smaller number of leaders making decisions while smaller churches are either in theory or practice more committee and congregationally governed.
7. Larger churches tend to listen to a small and influential number of church members for direction while smaller churches tend to give ear to most everyone.
8. Larger churches tend to hire more from within while smaller churches often hire from the outside and often depend upon schools and denominations to replace their pastor(s).

In conclusion, the way out of this sort of mess calls for theologically conservative Bible teaching, real church members actively doing ministry, drifting from national denomination leadership to more local authority, raising up pastors from within, and ignoring the parade of fools who will shrill at such changes.

Let me know your thoughts!


Amy Kardel said...

As a "converted" cradle Presbyterian, I can't agree more with this analysis. I attended First Presbyterian Churches for decades without ever hearing the gospel. That is why I am so grateful that at Grace we live and proclaim the gospel.

Lara Laity said...

"There is power in the gospel, and the church has no power when it walks away from the gospel.... Churches marrying the spirit of the age instead of Jesus end up being widowed. The only hope is repentance, which is the key to all of the Christian life."


I hope that we remember that just because we aren't part of a specific denomination (i.e. Presbyterian) that doesn't mean we are immune to marrying ourselves to the spirit of the age.

One of the good things about being part of a denomination (if it is a good one) is having someone to keep you accountable. Since we don't have outside accountability we need to keep ourselves in check that we are constantly marrying ourselves to Jesus and not the spirit of the age.

Thanks Pastor Tim for always teaching us straight from the Bible.

Tim Weaver said...

Along the lines of inter church accountability. That is a weakness of being an independent church.

Tim, do the pastors in the the area still get together from time to time to pray and talk about what's going on?

Assuming that we continue to be in relationship with the other local churches we openly give the Lord opportunies to address our issues as a church.

btw, my parents moved to Carson City, NV and have gotten involved with a Presbyterian church there and they preach and live the Gospel there. It is a joy to join them. It has also been a reminder to me to not jugde 'em all without opening the door and giving them a fair listen.

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Hey Tim,

I meant no offense to presbyterians in posting the article. Some of my best friends are presbyterians. There is an Gospel-centered Presbyterian church in town called Trinity Presbyterian. Brian Kay, a good friend, is the pastor.

FYI, there are two Presbyterian denominations, the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and the Presbyerian Church USA (PCUSA). The first is generally conservative, the second tends to be a bit more liberal. The article referenced the PCUSA. Trinity and, I'd venture to guess, the church your parents are attending is PCA.

Anyway, all that to say, I agree that these matters vary from church to church. I agree with you, check out the local church in your area.

And yes, the pastors in town still meet and pray regularly. A bunch of good guys. . . . Tim

Tim Weaver said...

I don't think that any of the Presbyterians who are the right track would be offended. They are probably grieving some of the same things that you mentioned. Hopefully they are bringing them to the Father in prayer that as a denomination there would be reform and redirection back to the Gospel. With all due respect to those who were offended, they probably need to be just like we do when there are issues in our live that must be addressed.

Thanks for the info on the 2 Presbyterian versions.

Glad to here that the pastors are still getting together.

Tim Weaver said...

Wow, that was bad grammar / word choice I used there. I think I need to proof my posts a bit better.

Paula R said...

For the first time in my life I am going to a church that is not a Presbyterian one. I currently attend an EV Free church. To top it off, I work at a Non-Denominational church! Who woudda thought!
I'm glad Tim Weaver mentioned reform within the PCUSA. There is actually a significant movement of reform withing the now-combined UPC/PCUSA denomination. Many churches within the PCUSA have set distinguished themselves as part of the PCUSA but reformed. You might be asking why don't just leave and join one of the four reformed demoninations (PCA,EVP,ARP,RP). The reason for many is that they want to stay and fight for change. They feel that if they "bail" hope for reform will be lost. They consider their congregation "in it but not of it". Some would say that is not possible, thus the complexity of the issue. There are also logistical issues such as property ownership that make transitioning to another denomination rather messy at best.
Even as a teenager, I thought it was absurd to have so many denominations within the Presbyterian Church. It seemed I always had to say "what kind" of Presbyterian I was.
The reason I do not currently attend a Presbyterian church is not because I have become disillusioned. Rather it is because when we moved here a year ago, our one friend in town recommended to us two good churches. The one he grew up in and the one he now attends. We attend the one he grew up in and I work at the one he now attends.

Paula R said...

Ugh, talk about not proofing one's post! Is there a way to edit these things once they go out? Sorry for all the typos.

Tim Weaver said...

I totally understand the desire to not break away from a denomination that is having problems and trying to be the solution.

I was involved in a church a breakup. The main reason why I didn't really consider leaving before the end was because I believed that the Lord would rather I be an encouraging, supporting, reconciling force than bail out and 'get what I need'. This is not a condemnation of those who leave. This just how the Lord was leading me and He was giving me the strength to do it.

So, I commend those who are sticking it out and representing the interests of our Lord in places that have strayed.

Lara Laity said...

Hey Paula, Thanks for sharing. It makes me excited that some are staying in PCUSA churches to reform them. It's a new mission field.
A few years back I heard a sermon about being committed to your church. It was about looking at church and saying, "how can I be of service to this body of believers," instead of, "Is the music good enough, and the pastor interesting enough for me?" One is Christ centered and one is self-centered. Most of us would agree that the exception definitely would be when a church is not preaching the gospel, but those who are trying to reform the PCUSA are taking church commitment to the extreme and I think they are doing a wonderful thing. If they leave the church, all those still attending PCUSA churches are still lost, but if they reform it, all those same people are now reached with the gospel!

I will be praying for these reformers. To God be the Glory!

Steve Rein said...

Just thought that I've attended three very reformed PCUSA churches that are all places you would hear the Gospel proclaimed. On the other hand, all three churches felt somewhat at odds with the denomination as a whole of late. However, their committment to the Word and to the Westminster Chatechism forced them to remain within the PCUSA.

Natalie Grummer said...

My husband and I attended Grace when we lived in SLO, now we are in Seattle and go to Mars Hill. I think the overarching point that Mark is making here is when a church- any church, any denomonation- turns away from the Gospel it turns to something else instead. The power is in the Gospel, not ourselves and what we want to believe. We can't take the parts of Scripture we agree with and like and throw out the parts we have a hard time accepting. So long as we remain in Jesus he remains in us. That is the biggest problem in churches that don't have the Gospel at the core- they are floundering out on their own, away from the shield and work of God. Subsequently they are more open to the enemy, coruption, skewed theology, and absolutes. No wonder there are so many churches dying. On the other hand, it is scary to see churches who have created their own mix of theological doctrine flourishing and leading people astray. These can be labeled as the Christianity-plus or Christianity-minus churches. I think this is also the biggest problem in the Emergent/Postmodern church movement, (which Mars Hill actually is not a part of, Mark's article on the Mars Hill Church website under downloads entitled 'postmodern Christians' sums up his position on it pretty well). In this article he writes:
"Again, the issue here is never academic but the heart. People have a moral problem FIRST and then they have subsequent theological problems. Simply, if you want to sin you will come up with any decent sounding philosophical argument to back you up. Basically, right thinking is thinking God’s thoughts after him. And, if we do that we stick close to Scripture and repent when our thinking strays. Others who want to be their own god (whether or not they admit it) begin thinking their own thoughts which is rebellion. As Christians, we don’t want to be innovative, just faithful. And, we don’t want a new idea, just to follow God’s wisdom. This requires repentance and not genius, and that requires humility and not pride. And there is the issue – it’s always pride from a hard heart."

Tim- are you planning on attending the Reform & Resurge: 2006 conference?

-Natalie (