Friday, January 27, 2012

Interested in Leaving the PC(USA) in West Virginia?

Recent events in the PC (USA) have stirred up unrest within the denomination. They have even spawned a new, quasi-separatist denomination of sorts. At their 2011 General Assembly, the denomination voted to give presbyteries the freedom to decide whether or not to ordain gay and lesbian ministers. I suspect that this is also creating a stir within some West Virginia congregations. West Virginia tends to put on a liberal face, while retaining a conservative heart. If that is true in the PC (USA) presbytery, then there is a definite possibility of some confusion among the congregations and their ministers. Some are in the earliest stages of asking “what can or should we do about it?”

Many answered that question forty years ago when dozens of churches pulled out of the PC(USA) to form the Presbyterian Church in America. Those of us who are ordained within this denomination have a ready answer—pull out of the PC(USA). Decades of evidence reveal that the denomination has travelled most of the road toward apostasy. I cannot think of any good reasons for evangelical churches within the denomination to stay. If there was ever hope of reversing the denomination’s devolution, then honest people must admit that the opportunity is now gone. I suspect that the consciences of informed evangelical ministers who remain are clouded with conflict. Perhaps that conflict has not yet boiled down to the level of raw conviction, but there is conflict there none-the-less. Until the conflict turns to conviction, though, many will rationalize staying within the denomination—“I must stay for the sake of true believers who remain.” “I must stay because I am commanded to pursue peace within the church.” “I must stay because this is where God has placed me.” "I must stay in order to be be a catalyst for reform."

I am not saying that there are absolutely no good reasons to stay in the PC(USA). But I challenge those who have not yet seriously considered leaving to examine their motivations. Do you find conflict in your heart? Hints of the Spirit’s communication to your spirit through the Word of God? Do you have, hidden deep inside, a growing suspicion that the denomination is hopelessly apostate? If you do have this conflict within, examine the reasons that keep it from turning into a conviction that must be acted upon. Can you see how that there is good possibility that they are merely rationalizations to cover for an idolatry that keeps you from doing what is right? Is it money? Benefits? Insurance? Retirement? Friends? A good name? Position? Housing? Fear of conflict, pain and difficulty? Nobody likes conflict. But to defy a conscience that has been informed by God’s Word risks damaging that conscience. In due time, you will not even have to work to rationalize staying.  In fact, you may find yourself beginning to agree with the apostates.

Now, I admit that I am a PCA guy all the way, so my perspective is one-sided. We made our decision a long time ago. That may mean that I do not today understand the nuances or complexities of why good men, women, and congregations decide to stay in an apostate denomination. Maybe there are really good reasons.  I am genuinely interested in knowing them if you have them.  I will do my best to understand them.

But what about those who are thinking that they would like a way out.  Is it so simple as calling up the clerk of the PCA's New River Presbytery and asking if there is room for another church?  Probably not.  We have been down that road before--taking in churches from the PC(USA) too quickly--and are discovering that they are not really prepared to deal with the differences.  But for those who would like to at least know what those differences are so that they can at least consider the possibilities, here is a short list.  Not exhaustive.  Just what I have run into in my experience.  

First, a PC(USA) congregation that is interested in joining the PCA must be committed to preaching the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Drop the higher criticism. No more Deutero-Isaiah.  No more, "Maybe Paul was wrong on this point."   The Bible is from front to back, word for word, the Word of God, and should be preached as such.  

Second, a PC(USA) congregation that is interested in joining the PCA must preach the exclusivity of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.  No more passes for those who have never heard. No more finding God's saving grace in other religions.  

I picked those two as the most significant because I have found that they are obstacles to many who think they are conservative within the PC(USA).  I have learned first hand that their "high-view" of Scripture does not mean the same as in the PCA.  Even the most conservative within the PC(USA) would probably be shocked at the strict adherence to inerrancy that is expected in the PCA.    And preaching the Gospel is crucial just on the face of it.  Frankly, I think there are many PC(USA) churches where the idea of being born again by the power of the Holy Spirit is too old-fashioned, too behind the times, too uncomfortably exclusive and fundamentalistic.   But Paul makes clear that no one will believe in Christ unless the Word of God is preached. And there is no other Gospel than the one that he preached.  

Third, a PC(USA) congregation that is interested in joining the PCA must be committed to preaching the Word of God.  By this I mean expositional preaching that dives deep into verse after verse and brings to light the nuggets of revelation that congregations have missed out on over the years.  Along with this should go in-depth theological studies that flow from the conviction that it is crucial for Christians to know what God has revealed.

Fourth, a PC(USA) congregation that is interested in joining the PCA must be committed to the form and faith of the PCA.  We are not a one size fits all denomination.  We do not have a "Book of Confessions" that  contains umpteen different confessions, any one of which will do.  The PC(USA)'s Book of Confessions makes room for practically any theological system. But the PCA is committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  That is one, and only one, confession.  It is not perfect, but it is fairly comprehensive, and it is our useful standard.  Churches that oppose such narrow subscription should probably look elsewhere.  But those who are ignorant and not opposed?  That is a different story.  It is understandable that your church might not be well versed in Reformed theology, but being willing to be taught is far more important than mastery. 

Forgive me for sounding caustic in this brief list.  I know that these four things alone do not a make a good church.  I also know that there are plenty of poor PCA churches that are outshined by some PC(USA) churches on many other fronts.   But these are the issues that I have found to be significant initial barriers to just leaving one denomination and joining up with another.  I would love to have PC(USA) churches in our presbytery.  But I am afraid that if we just opened the doors, the surprises after the joining and receiving would be unpleasant for those who were not braced for the full extent of the differences.   

I have learned that the PC(USA) is an entirely different world.  It does not really consider itself to be evangelical.  Within the seminaries, the experts, commentators, theologians, etc, are a completely different set from those in PCA seminaries.  I have discovered that I do not know the names of many of their experts, and they do not know the names of mine.  The worlds are so different that they have very few points of intersection.  To jump from the one straight into the other would be a massive shock to the system.  

But, if you are a congregation led by ministers who believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, who preach the Gospel as the only way of salvation, who teach and preach the Bible and theology, and who understand and are committed to Reformed theology, then there is at least some common ground and room to explore the possibilities.

Now, I have been talking mainly about churches or ministers leaving the denomination and transferring to the PCA.  It may be that someone reading this is an individual member who is interested in leaving their PC(USA) congregation.  In that case, you should know that all we ask is that you profess Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Our churches welcome anyone into membership who has been born again.  If you have not yet been born again, then visit a PCA church and talk to one of the elders about coming to faith in Christ.  They would be thrilled to no end to help you understand the Gospel.  If you have been born again, come hoping and asking God for instruction in the Word of God in ways that you may have never experienced before.  You may come to realize that you have been far hungrier for God's Word than you ever knew. 

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