Question and Answer

What will save Presbyterians?

Question:

While reading Dr. Russell D. Moore's article, "Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone?" I wondered: Where are they? Dr. Moore is a leader in the 16 million-strong and conservative Southern Baptist Convention with six seminaries.

As a former member of the PCA and RPCGA denominations, my concern is that of the Presbyterians, almost 3 million are part of the PCUSA which is likely to ordain openly-homosexual clergy. This would make the PCUSA a post-Christian organization.

Therefore, there are only 380,000 between the largest remaining faithful OPC and PCA denominations and only one remaining denominational seminary, Covenant, controlled by them.

What's driving this flattening? Is it liberal theology, modernity or use of birth control or perhaps something else? What will cause a reversal?

Answer:

It is indeed a complicated day! Historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches could be tempted to be discouraged were it not for the Savior's promise that he will build his church and the gates of hell cannot withstand its power (Matt. 16:18)! Also read Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith for encouragement.

The reasons for the decline in the mainline Presbyterian bodies (PCUSA) have been examined in many books. I could point you to two books that help to explain that decline and the emergence of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, both by Daryl Hart and John Muether, "Fighting the Good Fight" (available through the OPC's Committee on Christian Education) and their "Seeking a Better Country" (P&R Books). The thesis for both books is that Christians are pilgrims in this world and any time we try to tie ourselves too closely to the existing culture and social structure we will find that we are co-opted, compromised and eventually irrelevant. That is what has happened to the PCUSA. By seeking to be current with the culture (for instance, the endorsement of homosexual marriage) biblical truth is abandoned and with it the ability to speak to the culture from outside of the culture. In other words, when you buy into the world's assumptions that God has nothing to say about marriage that will challenge something like homosexual marriage, you have nothing to say at all! When the church sees herself as a pilgrim body whose true home is heaven (the "Better Country"), you are not so invested in being "liked" or approved by the world but can say what the Word of God says, both law (homosexually is wrong) and gospel (but Jesus Christ is a great Savior). I hope this makes sense.

Many of those in the PCUSA who are believers have left the denomination and it is steadily losing both money and influence. Unfortunately, many of the Presbyterians who leave do not end up in the OPC or PCA or other biblically committed denominations but in general evangelicalism. Additionally, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is theologically to the left of the OPC and PCA has become a home for some former PCUSA members.

But as to the question of how Presbyterians match up to a denomination like the SBC, there are several things to keep in mind. The SBC has been the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. for a number of years. Southern Baptists have also gone through their struggles. There is a movement (the Founders Movement) within the SBC to call the denomination back to its Reformed (Baptist) roots. But that is small compared to the whole denomination. Most SBC would probably still be characterized by being at least generally Arminian and dispensational. Arminian dispensationalism is the "flavor" of American evangelicalism, so it is no surprise that the SBC holds the lion's share of influence in general evangelicalism.

The Reformed faith, however, is different. Both the OPC and PCA focus on God's sovereignty in salvation which is opposed to Arminianism and to a covenantal understanding of Scripture which rejects a dispensational division of Scripture. What this means is that the Presbyterians who are truly committed to the Westminster Standards will always find themselves speaking in a way that American evangelicals find strange: God alone is Savior; man is spiritually dead and unable to save himself or exercise faith apart from God's sovereign calling; there is one people of God throughout history; modern-day Israel is not a special entity before God because it is not the same as Israel of the Old Testament; etc. Rather than lament that even combined conservative Presbyterians are very much smaller than the SBC or the PCUSA for that matter, we have to ask if we are being faithful to God's Word and resting in the fact that the Lord is honored by faithfulness more than how the world measures success (that is, in terms of numbers). And throughout both the OPC and the PCA there are people being converted and coming to embrace the Reformed faith. I see it in the church where I serve and it is repeated again and again across the country. Be faithful to the gospel and rejoice in that gospel and God will do what he pleases.

One final thing: yes, Covenant Seminary is the only denominationally connected Reformed seminary but there are numerous independent Reformed seminaries in the U.S. training men who are faithful to the Scriptures like Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Westminster Seminary California, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary with 5 campuses, Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Knox Theological Seminary, and more. So conservative Reformed theological education is alive and well and there are Reformed missions going on around the world (check out www.opc.org and the link to foreign missions for instance), Reformed student ministries on college campuses, and Reformed colleges like Covenant, Geneva, Grove City, Dordt, Kuyper College for starters. So we pray and we are faithful and we look to the Lord to bless and know always that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).


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