Speakers Added to Presbyterian Scholars Conference

Dr. Jennifer Powell McNutt, Mickie O’Donnel and Dr. Randall Carter Working have been added to the list of speakers at the upcoming Presbyterian Scholars Conference, Oct. 19-20 at the Harbor House at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill.

The distinguished group of scholars will  gather to discuss the past and future of American Presbyterianism. The conference also includes a 25th Anniversary round table discussion of Bradley J. Longfield’s The Presbyterian Controversy.

World renowned historian George Marsden will take part in the round table discussion, along with Dr. Michael Bush, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Athens, Ala., and Dr. Darryl Hart, distinguished visiting professor of history at Hillsdale College on On Oct. 19.  Marsden is an influential historian of American Christianity. His biography of Jonathan Edwards won virtually every major historical prize, including the Bancroft Prize, the Merle Curti Award, the Philip Schaff Prize, and the Eugene Genovese Prize. Among his other books are The Soul of the American University, Religion and American Culture, and Fundamentalism and American Culture. Marsden is professor of history emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This is the ideal conference for scholars, pastors, seminarians, graduate students or laypeople who want a better understanding of Presbyterian history. Specific attention will be given to the problem of secularization within Presbyterianism and the hope of evangelical renewal and reform.

The updated scheduled for the two-day event includes:

  • Lecture #1: “The French Bible for a Persecuted People,” Dr. Jennifer Powell McNutt, Associate Professor of Theology and History of Christianity, Wheaton College
  • Lecture #2: “Property (Mis)Trust: The Dilemma of Presbyterian Assets in Church and Court,” Michael Bush, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Ala.
  • Lecture #3: “Restoring the Ethic of Love: George Eldon Ladd’s Call to Civility in Evangelical Scholarship,” Dr. John D’Elia, President and Professor of Christian History and Culture New Seminary of the West, Calif.
  • Lecture #4: “Where (in the world) is the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church?” Joseph Small, Adjunct Professor of Ministry, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary Former Director of the Office of Theology and Worship Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Lecture #5: “W. Stanford Reid’s Vision of an Academic Reformed Historian in a Mainline Denomination,” A. Donald MacLeod, Research Professor of Church History Tyndale Theological Seminary (Toronto, Canada), President of the Canadian Society of Presbyterian History
  • Lecture #6: “Presbyterians and the Mainstream in the United States;” Dr. Darryl G. Hart, Distinguished Visiting Professor of History, Hillsdale College
  • Lecture #7: “Evangelical Brotherhood: Reformed Christianity in Colonial America,” Dr. Bradley Longfield, Dean and Professor of Church History, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary
  • Lecture #8: “Between The Old and New Princeton: J. Gresham Machen’s Early Years,” Dr. Richard Burnett, Executive Director of Theology Matters
  • Lecture #9: “Forgotten Presbyterians: The Contribution of Evangelical UPCNA Scholars, 1913-1950,” Dr. Jeffrey McDonald, Affiliate Professor of Church History, Sioux Falls Seminary, Omaha campus, Pastor, Avery Presbyterian Church, Bellevue, Neb.
  • Lecture #10: “Exegesis or Eisegesis? The ‘Why’ Behind the Lack of Theological Thinking in Our Congregations,” Mickie O’Donnel, Director of Children’s Ministry, Noroton Presbyterian Church (CT), Member of the Theological Task Force, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
  • Lecture #11: “Body, Space, and Spirit: The Corpus Christi Play and Early Modern Protestant Worship,” Dr. Randal Carter Working, Pastor, Lompoc Presbyterian Church (CA), Adjunct Professor of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary

A group discussion on the future of renewal in American Presbyterianism will be held on Oct. 20. The updated conference agenda can be found here.

Various Presbyterian denominations will be represented at the conference including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

To register please contact Dr. Jeff McDonald at, or by calling (402) 682-1439.

Cost is $30.00 (payable at the conference) and includes three meals plus refreshments. The conference hotel is the Hampton Inn-Carol Stream, Illinois. Please ask for the Wheaton College discount when making reservations.

This is not a function of Wheaton College.

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Old Presbyterian church closes doors

By Dan King, Manchester Newspapers (NY).

fpc-whitehall-nyA small congregation of Presbyterians is currently without a full-time home.

The First Presbyterian Church of Whitehall closed its doors in July, after the Albany Presbytery – which oversees the church – became aware of some code issues at the church, which was built in 1848.

“What we were told was that the Presbytery became aware that it had several churches in the North Country that are very old and that they needed to be responsible for them,” said Carol Greenough, treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church of Whitehall.

In July a meeting was held with the congregation, Rev. Jerry McKinney, who is the minister of the Granville Presbyterian Church, and members of the Albany Presbytery, who inspected the building. At that point, Greenough said, it was determined that many parts of the building did not meet code, including the ramp at the back of the church, the heating unit in the congregation room, the fuel tank, the bell tower and some lighting issues.

In 1931, New York State widened Broadway, and cut into part of the church. Greenough said that may have had an impact on some of the code issues at the church.
“They wanted us out in four days, but there was no way we could get everything out in that time,” Greenough said. “We were able to talk them into 10.”

After that, a special meeting was called for the entire congregation, which totals about a dozen people. Greenough said all members of the congregation were determined to remain Presbyterian, and “there was no dissent” about it.

“It’s a very sensitive time,” said Jane Gendron, a member of the congregation. “The Presbytery will stabilize the church. That’s all the information we have been given at this point.”


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Unglued Church — Our Churches: Originals or Old Copies?

Figuring out who we are as times change

By Ayana Teter, Presbyterians Today.

Empty board on wooden tableRecently, I was invited to share my thoughts on the “big-picture” view of my church.  I had the honor of sharing in a panel with a group of Presbyterian pastors from the Middle East.  As Christians they were the minority in their national culture.  As Presbyterians they were the minority among their Christian brothers and sisters.  As such, they had to be intentional about nurturing the faith in their youth and cultivating character in their families and making disciples who could be the salt and light in their communities.  And, though I have no first-hand experience of the lives they live, I was struck by the beauty and challenges they faced in their journey of faith.

As I prepared to answer the same questions, the strangest image popped into my mind.  It was the image of a flier.  You see, when I was a kid, if you wanted to get a group of people together you would make a flier.  And, then you would stick it up on a wall for something like a school pep rally or weekend party in the hopes of spreading the word and inviting others.

But, since that was the day before digital social media it would always take a little creative work to make the fliers.


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Three Presbyterian National Gatherings Scheduled for Early 2017

2017-calendarSeveral Presbyterian gatherings have been planned for the first three months of 2017. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the Fellowship Community and NEXT Church have all planned National Gatherings to start of the new year.

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians: ECO’s National Gathering will be held Jan. 24-26, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C.

The theme – “Entrusted” – is based on 2 Timothy 2:2: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.”

Three pre-conferences will be held from 8:30-11:30 on Jan. 24, before the Gathering officially begins at 1 p.m.

Speakers include:

  • Jo Saxton, a leader, visionary and practitioner. “Her message encourages people to engage in missional living and discipleship. Her message specifically equips women for leadership and influence and inspires all believers to engage the world in the same way God does—by going out rather than just reaching out.”
  • James Choung, who has been involved in campus ministries for over 23 years. He serves as InterVarsity’s national director of evangelism, and is ordained with the Association of Vineyard Churches. His books include True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In and Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out.
  • Paul Borden who was the executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches, formerly American Baptist Churches of the West for 15 years. This region of 220 congregations saw over 70 percent of their churches transformed and is now focusing on congregational reproduction throughout the United States and around the world. The region is planting ten churches a year, many starting with 200-500 people at launch.

For more information, visit the National Gathering’s web site. Early bird registration is now open.

Fellowship Community: The Fellowship Community will hold its National Gathering Feb. 21-23, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Fla.

According to the web site, “this year’s theme ‘Deep & Wide: Making Missional Disciples,’ will explore the connection between spiritual formation and missional transformation and look at the theological and programmatic changes needed to live out God’s Good News in an ever-changing world. Through inspiring preaching, teaching and discussions, we will be challenged and encouraged by leading missional practitioners, theologians and church leaders as we connect and grow together.”

Various tracks will be offered at the gathering including:

  • Leading Toward Missional Discipleship
  • Missional Small Churches
  • Korean Ministry
  • Church Planters
  • Ruling Elders
  • Global Engagement

More information about the National Gathering can be found here.

NEXT Church: “Wells & Walls: Well-Being in a Thirsty World” is the theme for the NEXT Church National Gathering to be held March 13-15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. The guiding Scripture for the gathering will be the story of the Samaritan woman at the well found in John 4:1-42.

The Gathering’s web page states:

As we look toward the 2017 National Gathering, as we invite local congregations and regional leadership to come together in the nation’s heartland of Kansas City, we recognize there are many walls and wells that manifest in our lives. In March of 2017 —

  • we are in the early months of a new US presidency (and after an embittered, fear-based campaign season),
  • we watch the global unrest created by the largest refugee crisis in history,
  • we continue – 9 months in – with new leadership in our highest PCUSA church offices,
  • congregational life continues to be growing slowly for some and declining for most in the North American church,
  • we continue to negotiate what it means to be a “big tent” denomination that holds space for minority voices,
  • we confess our fears that manifest in racism, homophobia, demonization, and polarization.

In thinking about this national gathering, we want to explore how we — as disciples and as the church — participate in Jesus’ pattern of moving across barriers, new understanding, and life-giving transformation. In short, finding and offering well-being.

More information on the NEXT Church National Gathering can be found here. Registration will open in the fall.

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Presbyterians Rank Oldest, Muslims Among Youngest in Pew Survey

By Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune.


Click on chart to make it larger.

A Presbyterian glancing around the church would find lots of company — if they’re over age 50. With 70 percent of their churchgoers over that age, Presbyterians are the “oldest” religious group in the nation.

United Methodists, Anglicans and United Church of Christ come next, with more than 60 percent of members eligible to join AARP.

 If you’re looking for youth, check out mosques, where nearly half the worshipers are under 30. So are 1 in 3 Buddhists and Hindus.

As religious groups across the nation grapple with ways to grow and sustain membership, new research underscores the pressure on mainline Protestants. They’ve watched the 50-plus crowd become an ever-growing share of membership, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, while emerging faiths in the United States and groups with no religious affiliation enjoy the largest share of young faces.

How to keep a church vibrant in this cultural landscape is a constant question facing religious leaders across the nation.

“A church’s age is important because it reflects its ability to pass its life to new generations,” said Dwight Zscheile, an assistant professor of congregation mission at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. “A faith community without that ability doesn’t have much of a future.”

The age statistics were gleaned from a survey of more than 35,000 Americans involved in Pew’s 2015 report on America’s changing religious landscape. Last month the Pew center highlighted the “oldest” and “youngest” groups in a separate report. The figures, including median ages, are just for adults.

The oldest were Protestants who emerged in Europe several hundred years ago, noted Zscheile. That includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has deep roots in Minnesota but just 1 in 10 adherents under age 30, according to the survey.

The youngest groups included newer faiths in the United States, as well as those categorized as no faith and agnostic. More than 80 percent of Muslim adults are under age 50, the survey showed, including 4 in 10 under age 30.


Related article: Which U.S. Religious Groups Are Oldest and Youngest?

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UPDATED: Two Area Presbyterian Churches Officially Exit PCUSA

By Mark Collette, The Houston Chronicle.

Regional Presbyterian leaders voted Saturday to accept the exit of two Houston-area congregations in an ongoing schism fomented by social issues including gay marriage.

On a voice vote, the Presbytery of New Covenant, governing body for 95 Southeast Texas congregations, agreed to dismiss Memorial Drive Prebyterian Church in Houston and Missouri City’s Southminster Presbyterian, making them the 11th and 12th area churches to leave in recent years.

They will depart Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest contingent of Presbyterian churches in the country, for the more conservative ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

Continue reading … 


Saturday’s Presbyterian Vote May Pave Path for Two Churches’ Exit

By Allan Turner, The Houston Chronicle. (Originally posted 7/13/16)

memorial drive 1No one in Houston Presbyterian circles is calling it a “divorce.”

But when regional denomination leaders meet Saturday, they will face the next worst thing: the demands of two dissident congregations to split from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join the newer, more conservative ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

If the Presbytery of New Covenant, governing body for 95 Southeast Texas congregations, votes to “dismiss,” Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church and Missouri City’s Southminster Presbyterian Church will become the 11th and 12th area churches to leave the denomination in recent years.

 As with other denominations nationally, social issues have divided Presbyterian faithful. PCUSA ordains gay and lesbian clergy and permits ministers to officiate at same-sex weddings; ECO does not.

Methodists have faced breakaway congregations spurred by perceived laxness in enforcement of church bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay clergy. Recent liberalization of Episcopal rules on same-sex matters brought rebuke from the denomination’s conservative Church of England cousins.

In Houston, dissenting Presbyterians also have complained of PCUSA’s purportedly heavy-handed, top-down management style. The liberal focus of the denomination’s social activism has left some believers uneasy.

With more than 3,700 members, the Memorial Drive congregation is PCUSA’s eighth largest. In 2014, another large Houston congregation, Grace Presbyterian, left the parent denomination for ECO. First Presbyterian debated leaving but fell 36 votes short of achieving the two-thirds congregational majority needed to depart. Smaller congregations in Houston, Galveston, Spring and Pearland also have switched.

Continue reading … 

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Data Reveal Oldest & Youngest U.S. Religious Groups: Two Presbyterian Denominations Rank as Oldest

FT_16.07.15_RLSbyAgeBy Joseph Rossell, Juicy Ecumenism.

Data from the Pew Research Center has revealed the youngest and oldest religious groups in the United States. The numbers show Protestant mainline denominations are aging fast, and could be headed for steep membership declines unless they make major changes soon.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) and its splinter denomination the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) count the oldest congregants in their midst, along with the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ (UCC). The median age within these denominations was 59 years old. This was more than a decade older than the median age of the entire U.S. population, which was 46 years old.

“Only about one-in-ten adults in these denominations are under the age of 30; the same is true of Anglicans, United Methodists and Episcopalians and members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” Pew Religion Editor Michael Lipka wrote in an article July 11.

Each of the 14 oldest religious groups in the U.S. was a Protestant denomination. But it’s the mainline denominations that were in the worst shape. Mainlines represent six out of the eight oldest groups studied, and each of these six denominations has a median age of 55 years old or above. The youngest mainline denomination included in Pew’s report was the American Baptist Churches USA, with a median age of 50 years old.

Continue reading …. 

Related article: Which U.S. Religious Groups Are Oldest and Youngest?

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The Invisible Presbyterian Seminary

Mission co-workers teach and preach around the world

by Jonathan Seitz | for Mission Crossroads

Lukas Nkhoma, Jonathan Thole and Watanga Ngoma leave the classroom at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen)

Lukas Nkhoma, Jonathan Thole and Watanga Ngoma leave the classroom at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen)

TAIWAN – Together, we are among the largest Presbyterian faculties in the world. Our teachers instruct and preach in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic. Most teach aspiring pastors, but there’s also a robust commitment to congregational leadership formation and lay discipleship.

I’m talking about the roughly 40 PC(USA) mission workers who teach in seminaries, Bible colleges, universities and lay academies worldwide. They teach Bible, theology, history and ministry. They build theological libraries, lead churches and write textbooks. These mission workers include Karla Koll in Costa Rica, Michael Parker in Egypt and Dustin Ellington in Zambia.

Some are doing creative ministry. Tom Harvey is dean of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in England, which trains teachers for churches and seminaries in the developing world. Thomas Goetz has taught English for 20 years at a Presbyterian university in Japan, while serving in churches and acting as a bridge between Presbyterians around the world.

My family has been in Taiwan for seven years. I teach at Taiwan Seminary in Taipei, and 89 percent of our graduates are still in parish ministry a decade after graduation. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan asks new seminary graduates to draw straws to determine where they will begin their ministry, usually in rural Taiwan.

Keep reading…

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As Goes the Mainline, So Goes the Nation

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2016-04-07 11:25:24Z | |

The next President of the United States will likely be a self-identified mainline Christian.

Hillary Clinton is a member of the United Methodist Church and Donald Trump continues to assert that he is a Presbyterian. However, Clinton does not align with the UMC on the exclusivity of Christianity, LGBTQ issues or abortion. Trump’s self-avowed denomination openly disavows him. The fact that Clinton and Trump claim affiliation with mainline denominations with whose theology and corporate witness they do not align, illustrates the big tent, diluted, nondescript relativistic Christianity of today’s mainlines.

Culturally, we have arrived at a time and place that should surprise no one and yet seems to surprise many Christians every day. Many Americans wake up every day and wonder how, as a “Christian nation,” we got to a place where college students cannot think, political leaders cannot talk to one another, and the God-created male-female complementarian design bows to fluid self-declared gender identity.

Those who have been students of mainline Christianity for the past 50 years have already watched a moral and theological revolution. The foundation of the faith has been eroded from the inside the mainline which in turn, has had profound influences on our culture at large. This is a call to heed the lessons of history and pray for a future of revival.

As the “robes” of mainline churches have given up on basic Christian beliefs like the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the evangelical mission migrated toward social justice devoid of redemptive power. The trajectory away from a shared faith expressed in and through Jesus Christ as the way of salvation, the truth of God’s Word and the life of discipleship gave way to moralistic therapeutic deism.

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A Shadow of Former Things: PCUSA General Assembly Post Mortem Analysis

From my seat on press row looking back at observer seating during GA222 debate of the apology overture

From my seat on press row looking back at observer seating during GA222 debate of the apology overture

There seemed little reason to be meeting in a space as large as the Portland Convention Center as the exhibit hall was nearly empty as were the bleachers and most of the chairs in the section for observers of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Press row was a mere 11 chairs, four occupied by The Layman, four by The Presbyterian Outlook, one by the GA Junkie, and none by secular press.  So, if you were waiting for secular news media coverage of the PCUSA General Assembly (GA222), there wasn’t much. The Associated Press did seek to disperse one article entitled “Largest Presbyterian denomination picks 1st black leader,” in reference to the election of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson as the fourth Stated Clerk of the PCUSA.

It’s not that Presbyterians didn’t garner big headlines last week, it just wasn’t the Presbyterians in the PCUSA. The PCA, Presbyterian Church in America, made plenty of headlines for its renewed conversation about the role of women in leadership, while the PCUSA’s election of a pair of female co-moderators in the 50th year of the ordination of women failed to make a media ripple.  Similarly, the PCA’s repentance of “racial sin” also made national headlines whilst the PCUSA’s many apologies issued to several native people groups, African Americans or victims of church sexual abuse did not.  The PCUSA’s own Presbyterian News Service, The Presbyterian Outlook and The Layman were joined in the press section by bloggers but no other Christian media outlets were physically present.

Why did the biennial meeting of the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country garner so little attention? Well, news outlets like extremes and from a worldly perspective, nothing particularly explosive happened. Volatile items of business like that related to Israel and fossil fuels, were answered in measured ways.  The so-called “apology overture” in which LGBTQQ advocates were demanding a public and comprehensive apology for harms done in the past, was amended down to a statement of deep regret.
So, from the world’s perspective, little news was made during the eight day meeting that costs more than $33K/hour. But one must also consider the possibility that the lack of media coverage is an indicator of the world’s disinterest in the machinations of a declining denomination wherein the debates are now largely between varying degrees of liberalism.
The world has little interest in the fact that the PCUSA GA:

The second mark of the Church: the right administration of the sacraments

According to Reformed theology there are three marks of the true church: where the word is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and church discipline rightly applied.  The first and third marks have been at issue among American Presbyterians since the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s. But to this point, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been maintained, at least in the denomination’s documents, with integrity. The new Directory for Worship adopted by the General Assembly effectively decouples baptism from the Lord’s Supper by removing the requirement of baptism for admission to the table.

Efforts were made by commissioners to amend the proposal to restore the explicit requirement that those receiving communion be baptized.  Those efforts failed and the debate was illustrative of the reality that pastors are not currently administering the sacraments in keeping with the PCUSA’s constitution. They are not asking if those partaking are baptized and they are offering to baptize those they know are baptized into the Christian faith. This leads directly into the conversation about the assembly’s action on evangelism … but first, let’s talk evolutionary theory.

Embracing evolution and eschewing evangelism

In several separate items of business the PCUSA affirmed evolutionary theory and eschewed evangelism.

In 1969, the PCUSA started down an evolutionary path that resulted in the 2016 full endorsement of evolution. Evolution and climate change were not matters of serious debate but treated as foregone conclusions by a wide majority of commissioners.

A majority of commissioners also rejected calls for a commitment to evangelism.

I couple these two issues together because of the Gospel. If you do not accept the reality of Man’s unique creation in God’s image, you need not accept so-called binary ideas like the purposeful nature of male-female creation. Nor do you need to acknowledge that Creation, in God’s original design, was perfect, marred by sin and now subject to sin’s degradation.  So, if sin is not personal then redemption from sin need not be personal, effectively eliminating the need for a personal savior.  That changes the nature of the Gospel.

Evangelism becomes something radically different and the first Great End of the Church, “the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind,” means a social-justice, progressive restoration of creation and not the seeking and saving of the spiritually lost.

When you change the gospel being proclaimed you redefine the mission of the church. That means that henceforth, when you see the word “evangelism” used in PCUSA literature related to local, national and international mission, you must now ask what is expressly meant by that term because this General Assembly made clear that it does not mean personal conversion to Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord, by faith alone, through grace alone, as defined by Scripture alone.

There can no longer be any question that Machen was right when he observed that Christianity and liberalism are two different faiths. The PCUSA has made abundantly clear which faith alone will be practiced under its denominational flag.

All of which leads to how the PCUSA GA222 could sit still and receive prayers contrary to both the Scriptures and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Muslim prayers to Allah 

For many, the most troubling aspect of the entire GA222 happened at the very beginning of the week, during Saturday’s opening worship service.

Mateen Elass, who speaks Arabic and has a lifetime of experience with Islam, addresses the issue better than I could. He says:

“as a token sign of its expansive tolerance, a Muslim was invited to participate in leading this liturgy. His name is Wajdi Said, president of the Muslim Educational Trust in the Portland area.

When it was his turn to lead, Mr. Said began by chanting in Arabic, most but not all of which was translated into English on the screen for the ignorWajdi_Finalant participants. Hardly anyone there, I’m guessing, had any idea where the words Mr. Said chanted came from. The first sentence was not translated — apparently, Wajdi threw that in on his own. This is what he said: “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed.” Within the Muslim world this is a common interjection when one fears the presence and power of evil spirits. Since Islam teaches that Christians and Jews who reject the claims of Muhammad are the vilest of creatures, under the sway of Satan, it is not surprising he would begin with this intercessory prayer for himself. Apparently, he need not have worried.

The remainder of his Arabic chanting was the most well-known chapter of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, which observant Muslims recite a minimum of seventeen times a day. Often called “the Mother of the Qur’an,” this chapter composed of seven verses, is a prayer to Allah. Its main request is that the petitioner be led on “the straight path,” that is, the path revealed through Muhammad, and not be misled on the paths either of those who have incurred Allah’s wrath (popularly understood to refer to the Jews), or of those who have gone astray (popularly understood to mean the Christians). So here at the start of the business of the PCUSA General Assembly is a Muslim man praying to the Allah of the Qur’an that the gathered delegates be led to Islam and away from the cursed Jews and the wayward Christians. What an uplifting way to begin the national meeting of a denomination once faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ….

After he finished this chanted prayer of Islam, Mr. Said then spoke a seemingly extemporaneous prayer in English seeking blessing, where he once again invoked Allah’s power to “…lead us to the straight path, the path of all the prophets, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.” To the untrained theological ear, this may sound somewhat innocuous. But in his prayer Mr. Said made three bold claims antithetical to the gospel:

  1. Praying to Allah (a god different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ), he was pleading that the Presbyterians gathered there would be converted to the straight path, i.e., become Muslims. That is the definition of chutzpah, to use a Yiddish term.
  2. He revealed the Islamic belief that all true prophets were in fact Muslims, i.e., believers in the straight path that Muhammad taught. In other words, there is no plan of salvation that God is unfolding, pointing to the coming of a Messiah for the world, but only a static message which prophets have been repeating unchanged from the time of Adam, the message of surrender to Allah and his will, to be rewarded or punished for eternity depending on how well or poorly you please him.
  3. Jesus is only one among these numerous prophets. To be sure, he has high ranking in the prophetic pantheon, but like all the rest he is only human.According to Islam,  Jesus is no mediator between God and humanity, he has no divine nature, he did not die for the sins of humanity, he was not raised from the dead, he did not open the way for the Holy Spirit to indwell and transform human beings into his likeness, he is not the Lord and Savior of humanity. 

Elass goes on to catalog a list of theological concerns

  • a practicing Muslim is invited to lead the worship of Christians
  • he invokes the name of Allah in Islamic prayer, and prays the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian prayer of the Fatiha
  • he asks Allah to convert the assembly
  • his prayer implicitly denies biblical  salvation history pointing toward the culmination of the Incarnation of God the Son into this world for our salvation
  • he disparages the person of Jesus by demoting him as “one of the prophets” without any corrective from Christians present
  • the liturgy he leads is woven from Qur’anic passages, with no Biblical input

Elaas concludes his blog by observing that:

Many liberal Presbyterians have castigated evangelicals for leaving the denomination over the diminished place accorded Jesus in the life of the PCUSA. The theological left says this is nonsense, that the PCUSA still stands for the unique lordship of Jesus, and for the truth that salvation is uniquely through him. But if the denomination lets stand this travesty, they will show once and for all that their words have no meaning.

Now, it is important to note that following receipt of a letter of protest from 25 Korean commissioners, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly issued an apology that some were offended – but he not apologize for the offense itself.

Those who were holding out hope that the PCUSA’s commitment to Jesus Christ was exclusive, need hope no longer. And the “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” document to which they continuously point as evidence of their commitment is on the same dusty shelf as the 1991 Evangelism document this GA denied to celebrate.

Fall out: Per Capita is going up

After all the financial implications of the assembly’s action were taken into account, the PMA is saddled with absorbing more than $450K in new programming demands without any identification by the assembly of new funding sources.  Other measures approved by the assembly will be offset by increasing per capita assessments — a per member tax — by 17 cents in 2017 and 18 cents in 2018.

In context, per capita rose a full dollar in the six years from 2011 to 2017 — and $1.58 in the eight years from 2010 to 2018.

  • 2010 $6.15/member of the PCUSA
  • 2011 $6.50
  • 2017 $7.50
  • 2018 $7.73

Per capita increases are driven by two inversely related forces: rising budgets and falling membership.  And while the GA rejected evangelism, the OGA projected year over year membership losses through 2020 of an additional 400,000 members.

Seven or eight dollars per member may not sound like a lot of money but by the time synods and presbyteries attach their per-capita demands, local churches are expected to pay $30-40/member.  In a time when more than half of the denomination’s 9,800 congregations are already financially distressed, the per capita increase is not going to come as welcome news from the assembly.

It’s difficult to see how the decisions of this most recent GA — which were largely socially progressive — help those struggling congregations that are overwhelming white, rural, small and aging.

Indeed, there were many other actions taken at the assembly — Jerry Andrews preached a fine sermon, organizations held lunches, seminaries held receptions, course was reversed on synod reorganization, a commission was created to deal with institutional structural demise, and again, apologies were issued to many groups wronged by the denomination throughout time. But in the end, little was done that will better enable local congregations to reach their neighbors with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the way that the Church throughout the ages has defined it.

The next meeting of the General Assembly will be held in St. Louis, Mo. in the summer of 2018.  By then, this year’s shadow of things past will be longer still.  



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