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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Aftermath of the PCA’s 38th General Assembly (VI)

Theme # 2: Increased Involvement

This second Theme carries with it a Goal, a General Means, and 6 Specific Means. Therefore we might expect the type of precision we’ve been expecting from such a far-reaching document. We’ll have to wait and see.

Before with launch into a foray into what our leaders have presented to us, I’d like to make three anecdotal comments. Yesterday, the church received a package from MNA. It was quite informative, but what struck me was the color printing and size of the mailing. We, no doubt, received fewer copies of the mailing because of the size of our congregation, but the enclosed material had to be quite expensive to print. Now no one wants this material to look like it was put together by a kindergarten class, but simultaneously with PCA headquarters talking about running deficits, one might think that they’d consider a less expensive mailing.

This comes under the category of, “Yes, honey, we’d love to buy that Lear Jet, but we just cannot afford it right now. Just wait until the royalties from the Herman Bavinck biography start rolling in and I’ll write the check for $15 million.” There are those of us who would like to see evidence that since our congregations are feeling the impact of the economic downturn that our headquarters committees “feel our pain” and are also willing to tighten their spending belts too, rather than acting like a bureaucracy from a socialistic country that continues to spend even when there is no money, or when you’re operating at a deficit. That in the first place.

My second anecdotal comment is serious, but important, for a number of reasons. This comment has to do with an itemized list of PCA church-by-church giving to, among other things, the AC. Someone I know well collected the giving data for 2009 of all the PCA churches in all the Presbyteries. I was disheartened that the Administrative Committee had not given us these numbers themselves, because they are telling, to put it very mildly. In the columns designated “AC Committee Contributions” and “Total Contributions” there were excessive numbers of congregations with “$0.00” in both columns—many of these congregations vociferously “missional.” Someone needs to give the PCA a hard and fast definition of precisely what “missional” means, especially in light of these numbers.

The $0.00 is totally understandable for young, new church plants or congregations that are quite small, but substantially less acceptable for longer-standing congregations. Is it that those congregations just don’t know what they’re supposed to give, don’t open their mail from headquarters, or that they’re more concerned with being “missional” than they are contributing what the rest of the congregations contribute as those churches in good standing in the PCA?

My observation and conclusion in reading the 2009 “stats” was that many of the PCA that are the most vociferous about being missional give zero to the AC. Let me elaborate for a moment, because in some sense I have sympathy for some who refuse to contribute to certain PCA committees. In addition, I cannot from here decide why they are not giving to the support of the PCA committees. I have written this before, but it warrants repeating: My own congregation has withheld money to certain PCA committees precisely because of the manner in which they operate and refuse to communicate with certain local congregations. It was an unanimous Session decision to do so. Since we’re all big boys and girls (commissioned girls, mind you; not ordained!), why don’t we get this out on the table? I am convinced that getting this out for an open, honest, and frank discussion is a necessary step if we plan to move forward in working out our current dilemma.

A number of years ago, the Session of Grace became disgruntled with the manner in which MNA “parachuted” church planters into our neighborhoods. We were not informed they were coming or who they were. We were only informed that they had attended the Assessment Center and had the PCA Good Housekeeping seal of approval—which we learned was not always a good thing. In short, their arrival came as a surprise and sometimes they were not a good “fit,” tending to operate autonomously, were paid ridiculously high salaries for recent seminary graduates (close to six figures), and tended not to be very Presbyterian at all, and that’s just for starters. We tried to talk to MNA about the problem, but simply got the cold shoulder. We were dismayed by the way we were treated. As a result, we voted with money by withholding MNA’s portion of our askings, but we gave that portion to the AC. Even so, we get letters from the AC near year’s end asking if we give more askings. There’s a lot of asking going on.

Of the “failed” MNA church plants in our Presbytery, you can count on one hand the number of people that remained PCA—and have fingers left over. We attempted to explain to headquarters and the regional MNA rep that congregations on the Left Coast are, at best, “fledgling” and, as often as not, the parachuted planter landed between two congregations that were trying to become more established in a very difficult place to minister. Our pleas went unheeded. What is the current actuality now?

Well, of those churches planted by MNA in our Presbytery—one plant and 11-12 un-Presbyterian “site” churches, the grand total of donations to the AC for 2009 was a whopping $0.00. The total to all other committees in the PCA from these same churches totaled $4,800, or $400/congregation. The combined budgets for these churches approximated $4,000,000.00 (without TARP, bailout money, or any of the $26.1 billion the current administration just added to our tax burden). One might think that the AC would want to address this egregious, glaring discrepancy before embarking on a plan to tax those churches who have faithfully contributed in the past.

By God’s grace, my home congregation has contributed the required “askings” since we learned this was part of being PCA. How is that working out now? The actual figures for 2009 is that our congregation is $200.00 short of paying more to the AC than every particularized church in South Coast Presbytery combined. It is time to get all this out on the table and deal with it. I’m willing to wager that if we went back into the records to, say, 2005, we would discover these congregations didn’t contribute anything then. Now, the AC wants us to pay a tax. This is mass punishment. It would seem that the leadership might want to sit down and have a heart-to-heart, man-to-man, face-to-face conversation with some of these congregations before they threaten mass punishment in the form of an unfair and unwarranted ecclesiastical tax. What would the justification be for such a precedent? If the AC is having monetary problems, how difficult would it be for them to address these gaps in the “askings?” The AC could, for example, speak directly to the delinquent congregations, irrespective of pastor or congregation size. Certainly, it is not the case in the PCA that all are equal, but some are more equal than others, is it? Let me be very specific, precise, and crystal clear about what I mean. If you check the records of giving, one very prominent congregation in New York gave $0.00 to the AC in 2006. Interesting stat. There is something wrong when an established congregation cannot or will not contribute anything to a PCA committee, unless the Session of that congregation has good reason not to, as Grace believes it does with the MNA committee.

It is high time, indeed past time for our committees in Lawrenceville to stop acting like our local, state, and federal politicians and start acting like we actually exist and matter. Let me be specific and clear: When we call, we should not be treated as if we are an imposition. If we send emails, we expect answers. If we make requests and the request is unreasonable, a polite No will suffice accompanied by why it is unreasonable. Many of us are frustrated—highly frustrated and sometimes downright angry—with the way headquarters treats us.

Our PCA committees need to realize this, acknowledge it, and devise ways—strategic or otherwise—to deal with the congregations biblically. Listening would be a good start in the right direction. One of our “Themes, Goals, and Means” ought to be, I think, Lawrenceville acting like they appreciate us rather than acting as if we are a bother to them. This perception from a number of congregations is exacerbated by a condescending attitude. Most congregations are semi-literate and basically supportive—very supportive—of the PCA. I would add we are actually those who support the PCA with our prayers and our finances and would like to receive that kind of respect and trust. As I went through the 2009 contribution list it did seem to me that those congregations that gave zero get more respect than the congregations that contribute.

Third, and finally, (I’ll get around to Theme # 2 later!) I was listening to talk radio on my way home from my study yesterday (8.11) and heard Mike Gallagher talking about how many pastors and priests today are telling their respective congregations that we should welcome illegal aliens. I listened to this just after someone emailed me photos of Hispanics in AZ having spray-painted American and AZ state flags and then spread them on the ground and walked on them. I know. We should welcome all the illegal immigrants and pay for them too.

At least that is believed by some. I don’t share that belief. I’m also willing to believe that my home congregation does as much if not more than many churches who are “missional” when it comes to feeding Hispanics. We have a special pantry for them—and for anyone else, by the way—and they can always take what they need. We’re so “missional” we don’t even ask them to show us their “papers.” But I was thinking as I listened to Gallagher’s comments that we have a number of people at PCA headquarters that categorically refuse to call illegal aliens, well, illegal aliens. They prefer “undocumented workers.” When I called the MNA committee on this, I was totally ignored. One can only wonder how this kind of politically correct claptrap might play out in a local congregation.

The pastor confronts brother Smith and says, “Brother Smith, we have evidence that you are committing adultery.” Brother Smith answers, “Adultery? You’re kidding, right? That’s such an unsavory, unpopular, bigoted term! Are you a bigot, pastor?” Shocked by such an accusation, the pastor replies, “Why no, of course not!”I’m not like that Ron Gleason. Why, I don’t even own a gun, much less carry one! No, Brother Smith, I am the poster boy for toleration.” “Well,” Brother Smith responds, “that’s nice to hear, pastor. Therefore, let’s just say that I’m having undocumented sex. Why I’m just having the sex that many Americans will not have. The country needs me. I’m paying my taxes and helping the economy. I’m providing my church family an opportunity to witness the gospel.”

You see, it’s not just the Roman Catholic priests and the emergents that are guilty of ethical euphemism, but it’s also the PCA and it’s also at PCA headquarters that congregations hear politically correct language—oh, and did I mention that we also hear similar things from byFaith magazine, unless they want money and subscribers, and then they’re more pleasant. Maybe our ethical confusion has its origin in the expressed fact (see the Strategic Plan, pp. 1-2) that the PCA has not yet figured out precisely what it means to be Reformed. Maybe the PCA should solve that one quickly before it becomes too late—way too late.



Blogger Infinity8Ball said...

Paul was pretty un-PC in Titus 1:12-13a. I wonder how people would respond if a modern day preacher referred to a group of people in a similar way...

6:58 PM  
Blogger Pastor St. John said...

Finally, you are calling a spade a spade. Way to go, and well said. By the way, local Presbytery MNA committees do the same to established churches as the headquarters MNA. Not nice.

11:24 AM  

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