Thursday, September 29, 2011

Leaving the PC(USA)?

Van is set on our leaving the PC(USA). For one thing, the strong, more conservative churches in our Presbytery all appear to be leaving. What will Presbytery look like when that happens, the question is posed. It can't be good, the answer is given. Our little church would find itself in a "liberal" Presbytery and in a denomination where the Left has finally triumphed after decades of struggle. We had better get on board.

Probably similar preparations to leave are being made by more orthodox churches all over the denomination. The thinking among these churches, as Van tells it, is that they need to come out now, before the next General Assembly meeting, when the ability of individual churches to leave will be further restricted.

On Tuesday of this week I attended as a commissioner the September meeting of our Presbytery. The main agenda item was the adoption of a procedure providing for a "gracious" (easy) method for a church to leave our Presbytery "with its property." Since there is still a majority of conservative churches in our Presbytery, the measure would surely pass, and it did. The commissioners from churches already intending to leave were not disqualified from voting. In any event, the measure passed with only one delegate voting against it. What were the other churches thinking?

The most interesting parts of a Presbytery meeting are the conversations at the site before the session begins, during lunch, and thereafter, before we go home. At the lunch, I sat with two black delegates with whom I have served on COM for several years. After everyone else at the table left, we continued to sit together; we talked about what is going to happen to our Presbytery. (Mainly I listened.) The more outspoken of the two described what was about to happen as "the rich white churches are pulling out, leaving the poor minority churches behind." (She prefaced these words with "Apologies to Paul, but . . . ") I said to her, "Arlene, you know our church has people of color" and she said something like, "Paul, I'm not including your church in all this."

But I must say that it was instructive to see how the movement of the conservative churches out of the denomination is seen by this African-American. She remarked on how few if any of the "big, rich, white churches" had any people of color in them, especially none in leadership.

After the Presbytery meeting, I spoke with the pastor and two elders of a Cuban-American church in Miami-Dade. I knew them and their church pretty well, because I had been the COM's liaison with them as they were rebuilding, following a tough several years. I represented the COM at the installation of their new pastor a couple of years ago. I sat through several of their Session meetings, conducted in Spanish of course. (Every few minutes a speaker would stop and ask me if they needed to translate what had just been said. Sometimes yes.)

I asked them what their church intended to do, but I already knew that the Latin churches would be staying in. The three confirmed that. Then the pastor said to me, "Oh, Paul, don't go. We need to be a prophetic voice for this denomination." This pastor is about 50 years old, and had been a minister in Cuba. She said that when Castro came to power, the church organizations were taken over by the Communists and many of the pastors joined the Party. A number of Christians left the organized church, "but, she said, there was a group who decided to stay in, to be a prophetic voice, and they were that voice."

We had a special meeting of our Session that evening to discuss the matter of our church leaving. I told these two stories. As to the second one, Van said something like, "Being a prophetic voice is a special call. One needs to be very sure that God is making that call."

So is the presumption that we don't usually get such calls? Is the burden, then, upon the believer to establish that there is a call? Is it that if one believes he is called to something special, especially if it against what the crowd has decided to do - then he must be very, very sure that it is really God doing the calling? That may be so. But if so, what is the weight of evidence required to rebut that presumption? Are two stories from Presbytery, a history of flourishing in a denomination already condemned as apostate by many evangelicals, and an emotional bias toward staying in place enough?

Doing a lot of praying here.

1 comment:

Sean said...

i don't know the answer, Paul. it's an opaquely individual thing. i pray for guidance for you.

perhaps cold comfort: God redeems our efforts, even our mistakes. we are small in the grand scheme of His design. your church can't derail Him :-)