Disappearing Act: Presbyterians Embrace Leftist Politics, Shun Reformed Roots


cirseal-white-color-343x350Over the last two decades, more than three-fourths of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country, driven out by a combination of Muslim fanaticism and economic and social collapse. Iraq, however, isn’t the only place to experience a mass Christian exodus in recent years.

Look at the Presbyterian Church (USA), the 10th largest denomination in this country. But you’d better look fast. The PC(USA), which is the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination (at least for now), is driving out members through its own brand of leftist fanaticism.

From a high of more than 4 million members back in 1965, the Louisville-based PC(USA) has seen more than half of its members disappear through the back door, reaching the current level of 1.7 million people. This includes a nasty hemorrhage of 103,000 members between 2011 and 2012. All this despite a merger in 1983 that gave the denomination a temporary shot in the arm—but before current controversies that threaten to drive the PC(USA) into ecclesiastical extinction.

The death spiral appears to have everything to do with continuing church efforts that shun the denomination’s theological roots in favor of political and social “relevance.”

At last month’s 221st General Assembly, held in Detroit, PC(USA) delegates voted in favor of three controversial measures that fit quite nicely into current leftist politics.

  • --“The PC(USA) voted to divest from three companies—Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions—that provide equipment Israel uses to raze houses, operate checkpoints and communicate in the occupied West Bank,” Christianity Today says. “The decision makes the denomination one of the few in the U.S. advocating financial divestment as a peace strategy.”

    Paul deJong, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Myers, said that his congregation will send a formal protest. “The actions of the denomination are at best misguided, at worst represent outright racism, and certainly give every appearance of intentionally promoting anti-Semitism,” deJong said. “One must question the motives of anyone who vilifies Israel with greater fervor than any other nation, especially when we consider the numerous places in which violence is being reported continuously.” Such as Iraq.

  • --Delegates voted down a resolution that would have condemned the murder of babies after botched abortions, such as happened in Kermit Gosnell’s grisly chamber of horrors.

  • --The General Assembly voted to change the definition of marriage from “a civil contract between a woman and a man” to “a unique commitment between two people.” Additionally, according to Christianity Today, “The new ‘authoritative interpretation’ of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Book of Order gives individual pastors discretion to perform same-sex ceremonies where the practice is legal.”

More theologically conservative Presbyterians have seen the handwriting on the wall for some time. In 2010, the denomination voted to abandon its expectation of monogamy in marriage and celibacy in singleness for its clergy. This past March, the 3,400-member Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, pastored by John Ortberg in California’s Silicon Valley, overwhelmingly voted to leave the PC(USA), despite the $9 million price tag. MPPC cited differences over the authority of Scripture and in church-planting strategy.

Other observers have been blunter, including Mark Tooley, who is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. “In fact, the exodus from the PC(USA) after the marriage vote may increase for congregations and individuals,” Tooley says. “Many exiting PC(USA) churches have joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while others helped create a new denomination called the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Despite the impact on denominational finances, PC(USA) elites, committed more to the Left than to the church’s health, seem mostly indifferent.”

Two earlier, more conservative denominations started by PC(USA) dissidents include the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The PC(USA)’s leftwing death wish not only disregards Scripture. It also contradicts the teaching of the spiritual founder of Presbyterianism, the Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Though known largely for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the 16th-century theologian Calvin spoke of many matters.

While Calvin was a man of his times in saying some harsh things about Jewish people—“I have had much conversation with many Jews: I have never seen either a drop of piety or a grain of truth or ingenuousness–nay, I have never found common sense in any Jew”—he also affirmed that Jews and Christians have the possibility of equal access to God by faith. By contrast, the PC(USA) has singled out Israel (incidentally the Middle East’s only democracy) for special censure.

Regarding the sanctity of human life, the distinction between Calvin and the PC(USA) is even clearer. “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house, than in a field,” Calvin wrote, “it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.” The denomination, however, has long held membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which opposes restrictions on abortion.

When it comes to marriage, of course, “marriage” between homosexuals was unknown in the 16th century and would have been considered an abomination. Calvin, according to one reviewer, “made sexual sin and crime, marital formation and dissolution, children's nurture and welfare, and family cohesion and support essential concerns for both church and state.” His philosophy can be summed up in this quote: Matrimony is “a good and holy ordinance from God.”

The theological and numerical decline of the PC(USA) is likely irreversible, according to Tooley. “Although church liberals love to insist their policies appeal to the rising generation, all of the available evidence indicates just the opposite,” Tooley says. “Essentially, the PC(USA) . . . resolved to become even smaller, older, and whiter, creating a future that depends more and more on endowments instead of live people.”

And when the endowments run out, can the PC(USA) be far behind?

Image copyright Presbyterian Church (USA).

Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, blogs at http://stanguthrie.com. His next book, God's Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book, is due out in January from Thomas Nelson.

Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.


"Contains" versus "Is"
One thing Christians must unite on is the authority of the Scriptures. I left the denomination I grew up in, because the leadership had become leftist, and the new pastor of my local church held a theologically liberal position. I sought out a church that stated, both in its written statement of doctrine and in its practice, that the Bible *is* the Word of God. My difficulty with liberal theologians, and their view that "the Bible contains the word of God," is who gave to any man the authority to decide what is God's Word and what is not? Thomas Jefferson would have removed all the instances of miracles from the Biblical record. Many modern theological editors would have the Bible not speak of sin, especially those sins that are so pleasurable. The problem in removing the mention of sin, and of the necessity of strong personal discipline in the faith, is that doing so would inevitably lead to our own self-destruction (let alone the judgement of a Holy God.) God is not willing for anyone to perish, but wants all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) But how are we to repent if we do not know what is sin, and what is the righteousness to which we must turn?
I feel as though the church in general has stopped talking about points that would make congregation angry. Or more so top giving tithe. No sermons on Gluttony. Laziness. Pride. Anger. Fasting. Why. We all need to know this stuff. How can I run a marathon with out ever having run a single mile. I need to be taught this. It seems that when u join a church. Ita assumed u know it all. And some people are new. Or were taught incorrectly. Marriage is one big one. The world assumes cause u watched ur parents marriage. U know what to and what not to do. I come from a family were my parents have divorced and my sister. I'm not angry w them. I have spoken to them and said a little biblical words to them. But I still live them. And all the bickering and living and bad stuff happening in the churches does not help a thing. People are seeing it and not wanting any part of it. We try to sweep it under the rug and hush hush it. But it comes.out. just saying
Since there are different views on things like baptism and how to do communion I would not go so far on this forum to suggest a denomination. However if you are looking for a church I would suggest you look for one that adheres to a historical confession of the church. That does not make it perfect, but it shows that it has a chance to keep on a Biblical path.

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