Oct 18, 2012 | Comments 10
The readers of ARPTalk are probably shocked to read the title of this article and see words by the Editor affirming a statement by the Reverend Andy Putnam. It is well known the Reverend Putnam and Chuck Wilson have deep differences over the ARP Church and its relationship to Erskine College and Seminary. Nevertheless, the Reverend Putnam is right on his analysis of the ARP Church. If memory serves the Editor well, on at least two occasions now, the Reverend Putnam has stood before the General Synod and presented careful analyses of the congregational statistics contained in the Minutes of Synod and warned us of the dire condition of the ARP Church. And we have politely listened, and we have then gone home and filed what we heard in the drawers of indifference and forgetfulness.
A couple of weeks ago, the Editor received the RED-covered 2012 Minutes of Synod. RED is a color used for warning. RED is appropriate for the 2012 Minutes of Synod. Now, it does not take an exhaustive study of the RED Minutes of Synod to conclude the Reverend Andy Putnam is RIGHT in his warning. Indeed, an argument can be made he was not forceful enough. The ARP Church is dying; the hand of God’s blessing has been removed; and, if what the Editor sees in the RED Minutes of Synod is correct, the hand of God’s judgment is pressing hard and heavy on the ARP Church.
In his opening address as Moderator, the Reverend Putnam clearly reminded us our heritage through the Erskines and other Seceders is the free-offer of the Gospel. According to the congregational statistics in the RED Minutes of Synod, very few of us are free with the offer of the Gospel. Indeed, if Jesus came for the purpose of saving sinners, He is not doing it much through the ARP Church.
If “adult-professions-of-faith” is a measure of the health of a congregation or denomination, then very few of our congregations are healthy, and our denomination is well-nigh dead.
Some may say the Editor is too harsh and puts too much emphasis on “adult-professions-of-faith.” Some will counter that often “reaffirmations-of-faith” and “transfers-by-certificate” are actually “adult-professions-of-faith.” No doubt that is a correct observation; nevertheless, “adult-professions-of-faith” indicate an outward focus by a congregation or denomination to reach the un-churched and lost culture surrounding us with the saving and transforming message that Jesus is Savior and Lord – that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life, and His Name is the only Name given by God whereby sinners are saved (John 14:6 and Acts 4:12). Reaching the unsaved “churched” in our congregations for Christ is important; reaching the “un-churched” lost surrounding us is just as important. Doing one does not relieve us from the obligation of the other. In the ARP Church, we are not reaching the un-churched lost for Christ. The statistics we report in the RED Minutes of Synod are a self-condemnation. We have very few “adult-professions-of-faith.” “Adult-professions-of-faith” grow and renew the Church and advance the cause of the Kingdom of God. By and large, growth through “transfers” is nothing more than what many of us call “the merry-go-round of disagreeable saints” – “yours today and mine next month!” Our congregational statistics indicate we have become non-participants in the harvest work of Christ’s Church and God’s Kingdom. According to our congregational statistics, Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28 is only given lip-service in the ARP Church.
There are, however, a number of notable exceptions, which are:
Emmanuel ARP Church, First Presbytery (14); Lakeside Presbyterian Church, First Presbytery (11); Faith Presbyterian Church, Merritt Island, Florida Presbytery (10); First Presbyterian Church, Sebring, Florida Presbytery (10); Hope Presbyterian Church, Florida Presbytery (22); Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Florida Presbytery (11); Tampa Chinese Presbyterian Church, Florida Presbytery (12); Tradewinds Christian ARP Church, Florida Presbytery (19); Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian Church, Northeast Presbytery (137); Joyful Church of New York, ARP, Northeast Presbytery (15); New Vision Presbyterian Church, Northeast Presbytery (13); and Fayetteville ARP Church, Tennessee-Alabama Presbytery (10).
These 12 congregations are refreshing exceptions, recording at least double-digit numbers for “adult-professions-of-faith”. What is most disheartening are the poor results from what are acknowledged to be our “flagship congregations.” “Zero” was not an uncommon number for “adult-professions-of-faith” in many of our congregations, including some flagship congregations. The conclusion is something has gone wrong with the harvest!
What is wrong with us? We claim to be evangelicals. We claim we love, uphold, and promote the Bible. We claim we believe in evangelism. We wear “orthodoxy” as a banner. We are the heirs of those who promoted the free-offer of the Gospel. What has gone wrong with us? Why has the glory gone?
What is the diagnosis? How do we explain our malady? Why are we dying?
- There are those who diagnose the ARP Church’s malady in this manner: the ARP Church is an old denomination and many of our congregations are located in rural, farming communities that have seen a dramatic decline in population. True that! However, a good number of those congregations now see the return of people as their communities have become suburbs to expanding cities like Atlanta and Charlotte. This diagnosis neglects to explain why our flagship congregations in highly populated areas are not experiencing “adult-professions-of-faith.”
- There are those who diagnose the ARP Church’s malady in this manner: our name, “Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church,” is a hindrance in that people do not know what we are because our name is long and confusing. Well, is this true? If the reader looks at the list of our congregations which are recording “adult-professions-of-faith,” the reader will be struck by this fact: those congregations are in areas where ARP Church name recognition is very low. Interestingly, our congregations where ARP Church name recognition is highest are not experiencing “adult-professions-of-faith.”
- There are those who diagnose the ARP Church’s malady in this manner: we live in a post-modern, post-Christian, and anti-Christian culture that has hardened itself against the message of Christ. Once again, true that! However, is this not something like the challenge the Christians of the first and second centuries faced, and, in conditions far more contentious than ours, did they not experience the astounding advance of the Church? Is it not written somewhere in the Bible that where sin abounds grace does much more abound (Romans 5:20)? What would we say to an emaciated and starving mosquito in a nudist camp for very large people? Would we not ask, “Why are you not eating when you are surrounded with so much food?” So, how is it that we are emaciated and starving in a target-rich environment? Why are we not eating? Where are the “adult-professions-of-faith”?
- Finally, there are those who diagnose the ARP Church’s malady in this manner: we have failed to produce ministers who know how to do expository preaching, and our challenge now is to populate our pulpits with men who are equipped to do expository preaching. Well, the Editor does not buy this line of reasoning. Expository preaching is not a newly crafted method of preaching. Many of us who are older grew up with pastors who were expository preachers. Many of us who are older did expository preaching during our careers – and have not yet walked away from it. Dr. H. A. Ironside, Pastor of Moody Memorial Church for 18 years, was a master of expository preaching before the Editor was born. During his ministry at Moody Memorial Church, he saw adult-professions-of-faith every Sunday but two. However, as good a method of preaching as expository preaching is, it is not a magic talisman. How do we explain the lack of “adult-professions-of-faith” in so many of our congregations where expository preaching is the Sunday-to-Sunday norm?
No one – not even the Editor – likes the diagnosis he makes now. The reason the hand of God’s judgment is pressing hard on us is because of our complicity in the sins and heresies of Erskine College and Seminary. As the Apostle Paul was consenting to the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1), for more than 40 years we have been consenting to the sins and heresies at Erskine. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we have NOT demanded accountability of Erskine trustees, administrators, and faculty members. Knowing Erskine trustees, administrators, and faculty members were unfaithful and wayward and also keenly aware they were disingenuous and dishonest in their reports to General Synod, we financed their wantonness and allowed Erskine to become like Hosea’s “trained heifer that loves to thresh” (Hosea 10:11 – NIV), and wasted more than 20 million dollars of God’s money on that which is antithetical to advancing Christ’s Church and God’s Kingdom. We have put trustees on the Erskine board who were unwilling to protect the cause of the Church of Jesus Christ and unworthy of the stewardship given to them, and we were unwilling to call them into account. We have allowed Erskine College and Seminary to be called “Christian” and allowed heresies and anti-Christian doctrines to be taught which have either confused the Godly or left the non-Christian unchallenged by the claims of Christ. And now we ask: “Why is God not blessing the ARP Church?” Well, God does not bless that which He has promised in the Bible to curse. The reason God is not blessing our preaching is because we harbor the sins of Erskine College and Seminary in our tents. We may say we go forth in Jesus’ Name, but Jesus’ Spirit is not going out with us. Until our sins are addressed, we can expect decline, withering, and God’s judgment pressed hard on us until the memory of the ARP Church is nothing more than a footnote in a church history book.
At this point, if the Editor brings down the curtain on the story, he has woven a tale of woe more mournful than a Jeremiad. So, let this not be a Jeremiad. There is hope for renewal, restoration, reformation, and revival. Read, believe, and do the comforting words of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV). Also, read, believe, and do these comforting words of Daniel 9:4-19:
O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (ESV)
The formula given above by Solomon and Daniel is not hard – it is self-explanatory. The obstacle is the level of our obstinacy.
The diagnosis and prognosis threaten the ARP Church. However, the Biblical prescription heals. God’s life-rejuvenating blessing comes through acknowledging our sins, immediately repenting or turning from sins, calling on God for forgiveness and renewal, and wholeheartedly walking in renewed faithfulness.
In our pride, arrogance, and self-assurance, many of us refuse to acknowledge we have sinned in our stewardship of Erskine. We so desire the status of having a college and seminary we deceive ourselves by tolerating the idea of a morally neutral lie to be seen as educationally urbane in the eyes of the world. God says repent and turn from falsehood immediately; we say we will negotiate a deal to be carried out incrementally over the longest period of time possible.
Many of us want to start anew as though the past is insignificant. However, the attitude of “going forward from here” has the fragrance of death about it. God does not allow it. Our fathers disobeyed and sinned. They allowed sins, heresies, and the propagation of a false-gospel that darkened the souls of many Erskine students expecting a distinctively Christian education. And they heaped God’s displeasure on themselves and us by setting the example of financing such awful faithlessness and heresies with the tithes and offerings given by God’s people with the prayer for advancing the cause of Christ’s Church and God’s Kingdom.
Now we continued in the same disobedient ways of our fathers. We proceeded according to the corporate model of compromise and cover-up; we ignore the Biblical principles of integrity and disclosure; we promote the secular mantras of academic freedom and inquiry which are nothing more than passes of permission given to anti-Christian professors to reject Biblical Truth in the name of intellectual prestige and acceptance. We honor friendships over faithfulness to Truth. We care more for the jobs of employees who ridicule us over covenant faithfulness. In the last 40 years we wasted over 20 million dollars ensuring Erskine’s secularism rather than using our monies wisely to plant new churches and evangelize. Now, stupefied, we ask: “Why are our congregations sparsely filled with old people who are waiting for apartments to open for them at nearby retirement homes?” No wonder our young people have left us. Our hypocrisy condemns us. Why would anyone in his/her right mind want to be an ARP like us? As a friend in Due West who knows us well says, “I would be a Buddhist before I would be an ARP!”
Sadly, the long story of duplicity, betrayal, and compromise continues at Erskine. This past year, in order to protect the MEDCOM program (DMin program for Army chaplains), Drs. R. J. Gore, Steve Lowe, and Ms. Jane Green flew to Texas to shore up the program with the Army brass. Months later, when Erskine administration was in trouble with the ARP Church, Dr. Gore was asked to participate in a promotional video used to sell Erskine to General Synod in order to secure funding. And, indeed, Dr. Gore’s participation and presentation sealed the vote for funding Erskine. Since then, Dr. Lowe resigned from his position, and Ms. Jane Green has left Erskine Seminary in disgust because of the manner in which the administration treated Dr. Lowe and others. Now, Dr. Gore has resigned as head of the MEDCOM program. It seems either President David Norman or Academic Dean Brad Christie or both are of the opinion that neo-Barthian and PC(USA) minister Richard Burnett should be pushed forward as the face of Erskine Seminary in the MEDCOM program and teach the lead core courses to the Army chaplains. Is Dr. Burnett, with no military experience, better qualified that Dr. Gore to teach these courses to Army chaplains? Dr. Gore is currently an Army chaplain, he has ministered as an Army chaplain in a war zone, he is a graduate of the Army’s War College, and he has nearly 30 years of military experience. Instead of heeding the advice of the man who founded the program and knows the Army, the chief Erskine administrators left Dr. Gore with the impression his stewardship, experience, and direction were no longer important or needed as a new direction was to be charted. How does promoting a civilian with no understanding of military culture make sense?
Here is the question: why is President Norman, who claims he wants the support of the ARP Church and evangelicals, so enamored with neo-Barthian Richard Burnett? Why does he champion someone who openly ridicules the ARP Church’s position on the Bible and has a history of antagonizing the Army chaplains? Dr. Gore’s presence at Erskine Seminary builds bridges with all segments of the ARP Church, the Army, and evangelical in general. Dr. Burnett’s presence has caused evangelicals to flee Erskine Seminary and jeopardizes the Army contract. Do the chief Erskine administrators have a death wish for Erskine Seminary? Furthermore, why do they also protect a professor in the college who has publicly opposed and ridiculed the position of the ARP Church on creation? Why do they have such disregard for us? And why are we consenting to this? This is the poison of Erskine that brings the heavy hand of God’s judgment on us. It is killing us! It is a savor of death unto death.
The sum total gain of Erskine for the ARP Church in the last 40 years is a RED – theological infidelity, administrative incompetence, and board deception that have dishonored God, the ARP Church, and caused God’s face not to shine on us. Yet, in arrogance, we refuse to admit our culpability. So, let us continue to praise duplicity, faithlessness, theological strangeness, secular unbelief, disingenuousness, equivocation, dishonesty, and folly. Let us continue squandering our resources in Erskine College and Seminary to the detriment of new church planting and evangelism. Let us use our educational institution to confuse and discourage young people in their faith; however, let us put away the foolishness of asking why so many of our congregations are dying. Let us continue ignoring the fragrance of death that sticks to us like bad perfume. Let us ignore the heavy hand of God’s judgment which is on us like dry is on desert sands. Let us continue ignoring the congregational statistics as though they are meaningless. Indeed, we have become like the man who denied the reality of hell; however, he nonetheless found himself in hell, and he was overhead saying, “It’s not hot, and I’m not here!”
My brothers and sisters in the ARP Church, as Joseph fled from the immoral inducements of Potiphar’s wife and left his garments in her seducing hands, let us run from the seductions of Erskine which are killing us. We cannot be trusted with Erskine. As a leech sucks its host dry of blood, we have been sucked dry by Erskine and have been rewarded with God’s hand of judgment pressing hard on us.
Is it not time for a call for repentance among us? Are you reading the congregational statistical report in the RED Minutes of Synod as a fearsome warning? As the United Presbyterian Church of North America (the old ARP Church of the North), the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (the old Northern Presbyterian Church), and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old Southern Presbyterian Church) are memories, are we soon to be a memory also?
The terrible words of Jesus read in this manner: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16 – ESV).
O God, have mercy on us, grant us repentance, and send us renewal and revival. In these words of the old Gospel song come to us:
Lord, send the old time power,
the Pentecostal power,
that sinners be converted,
and Thy Name glorified.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
Filed Under: Newsletter