The history of the Presbyterian Lay Committee
The Presbyterian Lay Committee Inc. is building on its tradition of calling Presbyterians to a Biblical faith
That has always been the case. The Presbyterian Lay Committee began in 1965 with elders who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. They loved the Presbyterian Church. They loved the Bible. They loved the Reformed heritage.
But in 1965 they were faced with one of the biggest issues ever confronted by Presbyterians in the United States: A new confession. There were noble reasons for the emerging declaration. The civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam were lessons that the Church must be involved in society and culture.
But many believed that the initial draft was seriously flawed. They feared that the theology of Augustine, Luther and Calvin was being eroded by a new social agenda, encapsulated in the new phraseology, “The Scriptures are nevertheless the words of men ….”
That phrase drew the battle line for the Presbyterian elders who first met in the office of George Champion, then president of Chase Manhattan Bank. They were shocked that the Bible was being reduced to everyday literature. At a time when “God-is-dead” theology was campus and seminary chic, the elders feared that the new confession would have a debilitating effect on the Presbyterian Church.
The first Lay Committee members were lay leaders of the church, people of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America. They believed that decency and fair play would help their cause. Thus, they respectfully requested that the denomination’s leadership publicize their concern about the new confession. Their request was denied. They offered to buy space in denominational publications to publish their response. The denomination would not sell them space. Then they dug deep into their pockets and sponsored full-page advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.
“The 1967 Confession does not ring true. It is so filled with ambiguities, undefined statements … and obscure language that it becomes possible to rationalize almost any point of view the reader seeks to establish,” their ad said. They even advertised a product to sell (as a loss leader): $1 for a Book of Confessions.
The 1967 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church rejected the Lay Committee’s view and approved the Confession of `67. Many of the original members of the Lay Committee would see the predicted results: Swift and massive loss of members, de-emphasis of evangelism and mission, and invasive Biblical illiteracy.
But they did not take consolation in being prophetically correct. They would not stand by idly and watch the Presbyterian Church disintegrate. They believed God had required their faithfulness and commitment in whatever direction the denomination was heading.
In 1968, the Lay Committee dug deeper and began paying for a bold new strategy. The Layman was born. Today, The Layman is mailed to 100,000 Presbyterian households worldwide. Its voice is strong and consistent. Critics who would reshape the denomination to reflect cultural and social values rather than Biblical ethics have frequently lambasted The Layman’s coverage and commentary. Former moderator Robert Bohl and other denominational leaders attempted in 1995 to have The Layman publicly censured by the delegates to the General Assembly. The vote was 517-20 against censuring The Layman.
Since 1995, the denominational environment has become increasingly hostile to the message that the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the only way to salvation and that God calls His people to holy living that includes fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. Although the PCUSA has wavered, the Lay Committee has stood firm. In the midst of a rising tide of cultural accommodation in the PCUSA, the Lay Committee has maintained at every turn the veracity of God’s Word, the authority of God’s Son and the present power of God’s Holy Spirit to transform sinners even today.
Early victories including the defeat of the Human Sexuality Report, the rejection as unbiblical “re-imagining” God as a goddess named Sophia and the 15-year defense of the fidelity and chastity standards, have in recent years given way to several defeats. The approval of the controversial Peace, Unity and Purity report, the adoption of a new Form of Government and the rejection of the fidelity and chastity standard of sexual behavior for ordained officers are recent descents down an ever more slippery slope.
As congregations determined to leave the denomination that in so many ways has left them, the Lay Committee became aware that help was needed in the area of church property law. With the publication of A Guide to Church Property Law (now in its second edition) and a frequently updated database of legal information at www.layman.org for churches seeking dismissal, the Lay Committee serves churches across the country who find themselves in conflict with the denomination that asserts a trust over all local church property. To further assist those congregations the Lay Committee has partnered with highly qualified law firms across the country to file amicus briefs before the state supreme courts in California, Georgia, Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas.
We remain equally committed to Presbyterians who feel called to remain in the PCUSA and work for her redemption. For more than 45 years the Lay Committee has worked closely with other renewal organizations in the PCUSA and in other Protestant denominations in the common cause of restoring our historic witness to Biblical faith. That work continues to develop as we seek to meet today’s challenges to the Way, the Truth and the Life of Jesus our Lord.