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June 30, 2001
Column #1035

Presbyterians Take Steps To Apostasy

     The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. took two major steps toward apostasy at its General Assembly meeting in Louisville last month. A denomination that has already shrunk from 4 million members to 2.5 million will continue to shrivel as a result.

     For 2000 years, Christians have declared ''Jesus is Lord.'' But a Presbyterian on the staff of the World Parliament of Religions some months ago shocked many traditionalists by asking a question, ''What's the big deal about Jesus?'' 

     His question prompted three Presbyteries to petition the General Assembly to declare that Jesus Christ ''is the singular saving Lord,'' and to urge that all people ''embrace and experience the Lordship of Christ by putting Jesus first in their lives.''

     However, as Robert Rea of South Carolina put it, ''I don't have a right to say that other people can't find God in other ways.'' Another asked Presbyterians to ''respect diversity regarding belief in God.'' he described the ''Jesus alone'' statement as an ''exclusionary practice ... that will split our church even greater.'' 

     Several countered by quoting Jesus in John 14:6: ''I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.'' 

     What passed by a big 369-163 margin was a compromise that said, ''...for us the assurance of salvation is found only in confessing Christ and trusting him alone.'' 

     For Clark Cowden whose Presbytery proposed the historical affirmation, ''That vote left open the door that there might be other ways to salvation to other people. I had an empty feeling. We thought we could agree on Christ.''

     America's largest Presbyterian Church also abandoned the 2000-year-old Christian position on sexuality. In 1996, the denomination put into its constitution a brilliantly worded statement, that ordained leaders of the church ''are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture'' either ''in fidelity within the covenant of marriage ... or chastity in singleness.''

     The issue of whether to ordain active homosexuals is thus addressed indirectly. But then so is cohabitation, which 5.5 million couples are doing at any moment, according to the Census.

     By a decisive 317-208 vote, delegates voted to yank the language out of the constitution, and to revoke all previous authoritative interpretations and to provide a ''local option'' allowing congregations and presbyteries the freedom to ordain self-affirming, practicing homosexuals or those who are cohabiting.

     This change in the constitution must be ratified by a majority of the 173 presbyteries over the next year before it is enacted. ''I believe they will reject this action by a substantial margin,'' said Parker Williamson, editor of the conservative influential newspaper, ''The Presbyterian Layman.'' He noted that after liberals elected Jack Rogers as moderator by a 60-40 margin, they were ''like sharks taking blood, circling, attacking and mauling the more conservative biblical Presbyterians on every issue, whether it was abortion or marriage.'' 

     For example, Rogers said he ''believed in marriage, but we need to broaden our definition of marriage. I am committed to work for the moral equivalent of marriage for homosexuals.''

     Ten weeks ago, a conservative counter trend began called ''The Confessing Church Movement.'' So far, 520 congregations with 180,000 members have passed resolutions affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that Scripture is the infallible rule of life and faith and that God's standards do not change to accommodate a transient culture. The largest churches in the denomination have signed up, all of whom are growing, unlike most shrinking liberal churches.

     The Beaver/Butler (Penn.) Presbytery has voted as a group of churches to join the Confessing Church Movement. Others are considering this step. Why is that significant?

     If a Presbyterian church chooses to leave the denomination, it risks having to walk away from its property. However, if the Presbytery has voted for the Confessing Movement, it would presumably be more open to allowing congregations to exit gracefully with their property intact.

     Rev. William Vanderbloemen, 31, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Ala., asserts that the battle ''began when I was 7 years old. My son is 7 years old. I will not spend a career fighting this fight. Something has to change.''

     Rev. Ron Scates, pastor of the 5,200 member Highland Park (Tex) Presbyterian Church, is part of the Presbyterian Coalition of the 25 largest churches, who are working to defeat the sexuality amendment. ''We are trying to stay and fight within the system. The Assembly was so radical, I believe it will be roundly rejected.'' 

     But if it fails, ''The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. will blow up. We will work for an amicable separation. We will not continue this fight for 20 more years.''

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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