Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is There An Exodus From The PCUSA, And How Does One Recognize It?

I hear from many fellow evangelicals and read in many articles and letters that a major exodus has began, which will result in many congregations leaving the Presbyterian Church USA. Most of those expressing this opinion see most of these departing congregations becoming part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. Obviously, this is certainly true to some extent, especially with the New Wineskin congregations who are joining the EPC. And the rationale for leaving provided by some, especially Robert Gagnon, has been especially sobering and persuasive. However, I am not sure if the exodus is as large and as potent as what some are saying.
Oh sure, it is certainly noteworthy when Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa or Memorial Park in Pittsburgh recuse themeselves to the EPC, and such moves certainly gain the attention of all of us who call ourselves evangelical. But at this point, I do not see the grand exodus or realignment that I hear others talking about. No offense intended to churches like Kirk of the Hills, but no church that really carries the weight of evangelical leadership in the PCUSA has indicated that it is leaving. No such church, like Peachtree in Atlanta, Menlo Park in California, First in Colorado Springs, Bel Air in the LA area, or University Place in Seattle, has given the slightest indication that they are seriously entertaining a change of denominational affiliation. Plus, no major evangelical voice has announced his or her "exodus." We have not heard (up to this point) the names of Joe Rightmeyer, Vic Pentz, Mark Brewer, Andrew Purves, Jerry Andrews, Roberta Hestenes, Mary Holder Naegeli, Jim Berkeley, Bill Young, or even Parker Williamson mentioned in any list of those who are seeking refuge by opting out of the PCUSA.
A few weeks ago, I was in a conversation with a friend who is pastor of a PCUSA church in NW Washington state. He is part of a covenant group of pastors from throughout the USA who gather together periodically for fellowship, encouragement, education, and accountability. Out of 12 pastors in his group, three were in churches leaving the PCUSA for the EPC. A significant number --- Yes! But indications of a mass exodus starting --- I'm not so sure.
At this point, it SEEMS TO ME that most of us evangelicals are staying the course in the PCUSA, and it SEEMS TO ME that this perserverance by the evangelicals will yet yield a quite orthodox and missional future for the PCUSA. Oh yes, I think some of the more militant liberals in this ecclesiastical community smell evangelical blood and are making plans for a victory feast as we hear of a theologically conservative church here and there leaving for the EPC. But sometimes the facts do not fit what we are sensing or hearing, and the facts (at this time) overwhelmingly support the continuance and growth of a strong and vital evangelical presence in the PCUSA.



Anonymous said...

I think you're quipping over the adjective "mass". Is there a mass exodus of evangelicals from the PCUSA? Well, it all depends from your perspective. When I heard just on Monday that three of our congregations in my presbytery, representing about a sixth of the "evangelical" churches (those who label themselves this way and meet in a monthly gathering of evangelicals), are taking steps to leave the denomination. To me that is a SIGNIFICANT exodus. It is large enough to be worrisome. They haven't left, yet, but they are leaning that way. Just because the big names nor the big steeple churches have made a decision doesn't mean that they aren't considering it. And if enough evangelicals begin to bolt, that might be just enough sway to lead the others out too. I think you are splitting hairs if you are arguing that since there haven't been huge numbers of churches and people leaving that this is not a "mass" exodus. So what! There are plenty of us who haven't made a decision who are leaning toward leaving and if enough can be sure many more will follow.

Anonymous said...

Dear Will,

I suspect that you and I would find a lot of common ground as to where we stand on the idea of leaving the PC USA. My position is that which has been described by others) as the "stay-fight-win" camp. My own perspective is that this is the mission field God called me into, and I am certain He had a purpose in doing so. I continue to rail against the unfaithfulness and apostasy of many in the bureaucratic leadership of this denomination.

However, I believe that by commitment and firm adherence to real Reformed Doctrine and practice and by using the (ever diminishing) polity mechanisms available to us, this corner of the kingdom can and will be restored.

Having said all that, allow me to respectfully take issue with a couple of your premises. First is that the number leaving is not a mass exodus. You may be correct - you may not. I don't know. I do know that the Louisville voice has consistantly tried to dismiss this movement as a small number of disaffected congregations who are insignificant in their impact. I am afraid your comment follows that thinking. Just because one of the "high steeple aristocracy" hasn't found it necessary to depart -yet- has no bearing. The highest steeples enjoy a de facto level of autonomy that makes the silliness of Louisville irrelevent to them. Money talks.

Secondly among your list of so-called leading evangelical voices are many who have their vocational security comletely entwined in being "the loyal opposition." Departing the PC USA would have a seriously deleterious affect on their employment and income security.

When a Kirk of the Hills or a Memorial Park cmoes to the sorrowful and sad conclusion that they can no longer effectively witness for Christ within this denomination, it is a huge impact on all of us. We do not just lose members and numbers and mission resouces, we lose credibility and gravitas with the world -- and the world is watching.

Sorry to say Will that I think your conclusion is wrong. there is an exodus beginning, the question is to what end and how far will it go?

zagrebwill said...

I am not discounting the importance and significance of those who are choosing to leave the PCUSA, but how do we recognize a "mass exodus" if and when it happens? There are people and sources stating that such has begun.
As much as I respect (and even support) the churches both large and small who are taking the bold step of leaving, I don't think it will significantly impact the PCUSA until a Menlo Park or Peachtree does this. Of course, if a huge number of small to middle-sized congregations begin leaving, it can the qualify as a "mass exodus" and will prove very influential in drawing other churches away who might have otherwise remained.
Now, when a church like Kirk of the Hills leaves (and I have personal friends who I respect immensely at Kirk of the Hills), it certainly has an effect in that particular presbytery, but I don't believe most of the Louisville leadership really cares about what happens in particular presbyteries. What ever the evangelical congregations and leaders do, it has to be big enough and financially worthy enough to grab the self-interest of our institutional leaders. This is where I think the forming of the Global Presbyterian Fellowship and the New Wineskins Association (both leaving and remaining NWA churches), is far more effective and productive. As individual congregations choose and develop new networks for doing the mission of Christ, the official institutional structures of the PCUSA are set aside and become even more clearly the irrelevant and anachronistic institutional dinosaurs that they are.

Anonymous said...

It may be that a large number of churches are not leaving now but we don't know for sure. I was at a meeting and heard that a church I knew well enough from my past work in Indiana (Olivet Presbyterian in Evansville, IN) was thinking of leaving. They are a mid-sized church so I didn't think they would go without it being noted somewhere. Later on I went to check on Olivet to see where things stood and I couldn't find them----after searching I found out they had already left and were already part of the EPC wihtout word being said about it outside of their presbyter. How many churches are leaving? We don't know.
But there is a differnt sort of exodus that will be larger, in my opinion, and that is the exodus my individual members. Yes, those "really important churches" you mention may not be leaving but I will bet even they have had members bid goodbye to this part of Christ Body to join with another part of the Body.
Has anyone here met anyone who actually forsees a turnaround in our denomination's decline that has not lasted more than 40 years and is gaining speed? I didn't think so.

Jon said...

First let me say welcome to the blogosphere.

Just a quick question, does a 40% or so reduction in membership over the last 40 years constitute a "major exodus"?

You are correct that there has not been a lot of churches leave the PCUSA so far. However it takes a whole lot more time and hassle for a congregation to leave than it does for individual families to leave. I expect the yearly membership losses to increase as the PCUSA continues her steady march to conform herself to this world. The difference now verses the past 40 years is that we are starting to see whole congregations leave instead of just families.

zagrebwill said...

Jon, you have a super excellent point! It is amazing how even an evangelical such as myself can become so accustomed to the continuing "major exodus" of the past 30 or so years that I don't really think of it anymore as something extraordinary! It makes me wonder what other obvious and major things we (or at least I) may have become accustomed to in the PCUSA that should be much more shocking to us all (or at least me).

Stushie said...

Signal Mountain Church in Chattanooga was just released from the Presbytery of East Tennessee, Will. It has over 2000 members, $24 million in property assets, and was the evangelical driving force of the Presbytery.