Being Part of Something That is Dying: Why I Stay Presbyterian

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Conversations:

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but we were the youngest people there and we are in our 40’s! We don’t want our kids to be the only one’s in confirmation, so we are going to go to the mega church. We don’t really agree with their theology, but our kids love the events and we want them to want to go to church.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but they were too conservative. I can’t be part of a church that all they ever talk about is who is excluded. It’s too tense. Church should be a place where everyone is welcome. I don’t feel welcome there. I can have a nice morning devotional and be with my friends in my book group and get the community I need without the tension of the church. I’m so sick of all the infighting.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but they were too liberal. They are denying the authority of scripture and selling themselves out to secular society. They don’t even know what they stand for. They have lost all integrity. Some pastors don’t even believe that Jesus alone saves. I can’t be part of a church that believes other religions can find their way to heaven. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, that’s it. Final answer.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, and they played the organ and these hymns and it was so traditional and boring. It was like the church my grandma went to. That kind of worship service does nothing for me.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street and they had this awful contemporary music. I just hate those screens and that drum set….right in front of the cross! Where is the tradition? That kind of worship does nothing for me. We will lose who we are if we do worship in a different way.”

We will lose who we are…

That’s what this is about. It’s about identity. Another huge church in the Presbyterian Church left the denomination last week and according to what I’ve read, they seem almost giddy with joy to be leaving. “See you next week!” The popular pastor wrote.

It’s insulting and painful to see any congregation no matter their size, pick up their toys and leave. People have written in on blogs saying, “Duh, of course this happening, how can you be so blind? The Presbyterian Church has lost its way.”

I have decided to remain faithful to my denomination and its tenets. Here’s why:

I believe in the sovereignty of God. That means God knows more than I do, about everything.

I believe that we are saved by grace through faith. We don’t earn it our salvation or even have to prove it. There is not a standardized test for the admittance into heaven.

I believe in total depravity and the atonement of the cross. I am sinner. I need to repent both communally and independently. I need to be reminded that I am forgiven. The cross frees us from sin and death uniting us to new life in Jesus Christ.

I am a child of God, baptized by the Holy Spirit, claimed, known, and received by the grace of God.

I believe in the proclamation of the Word. Scriptures are to be read, studied, interpreted, respected and valued.

I believe we are called to be connected. We are called to be in it together. God wants us to be in relationship with one another, to pray for each other, to encircle one another. We are called to be the body of Christ in the world.

It is for these central beliefs that I will remain Presbyterian. While the secular world questions the church’s value we are killing ourselves from the inside out with infighting and name calling and it is painful!

But here’s the thing. Death brings life. If the denomination eventually becomes so small that we have to close our doors, and we become a relic, and I really pray from the depths of my soul that it doesn’t, something else will take its place. The Church is bigger than any one denomination or one church within the denomination. The church is not about us. It’s not about what makes us feel good or even what we get out of it. It’s not about being right and it’s not about being wrong. It’s never about the building. It’s about people and their desire to know their Creator, their Savior and their Redeemer. It’s about bringing people closer to the Holy both within themselves and with each other. It’s about recognizing that in spite of our sinfulness, Jesus can still do something with us. It’s about the fact that while we will all someday become dust, we will become part of the Communion of Saints, and for all eternity we will all have to sit at same Table, and like each other.

“All people are grass,” scripture tells us, “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of The Lord will stand forever.”
(Isaiah 40:7)

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21 thoughts on “Being Part of Something That is Dying: Why I Stay Presbyterian

  1. Thank you for your wisdom. After attending the John Knox 500th birthday Symposium this weekend at Montreat AND reading of the Ortberg/MPPC vote, my head is swimming with thoughts of PC (USA) past and present. I hope the conversation about both topics continues…and trust that, as always, God is in control.

  2. This is quite meaningful. It took me years of investigating many churches to find the Presbyterian USA church. People are people everywhere – and they make mistakes, but when God is the center and the tenants of the faith are something I can make my own, then that is the church to attend. Now I am moving, and I already see myself saying some of the things in the introductory paragraphs. I am lucky – there are several Presbyterian USA choices close to where I will move. I see that the largest and closest no longer includes “Presbyterian” on their signs – probably not the church for me. The others do. It is not always easy to find a church, and one congregation is not necessarily representative of all the rest, but I will definitely try. No matter the church building, the beliefs listed above are my beliefs. In my search, I want a place that will teach me about God, let me use my skills to participate fully with the congregation, and at times, challenge me in acting on my religion. Becoming part of a new church family, making friends, and allowing a variety of liberal/conservative beliefs may help me attend more regularly. I will truly miss the church I attend now.

    Also, I do not think the Presbyterian USA church has lost its way. I think we don’t know how to talk about our way. Years ago, when I first tried, even my minister could not talk about it, and had difficulty answering questions – even with more questions. But the people in the church were unusual – friendly, non-judgemental, open – leaving my interaction with Jesus as my own personal business. That was the church I joined. Loving, open, God-centered, with the Bible as the personal authority. It has grown into one that is also encouraging, teaching, and missional, and is growing into a community that knows how to talk about their religion. “And they will know we are Christians by our love” – that is the church I joined years ago. As I have recently come to understand that “They will be done” is active. It requires active involvement, active planning, intentional prayer, actively bringing God’s love into all that is done at work, home, etc. (not saying I don’t forget!). When “Thy will be done” becomes less passive and more active, I think Presbyterians will learn about themselves and, as the Shelly Whitewood (author of above) points out, the transformed Presbyterian USA church will be even better. Beth

  3. i appreciate your comments. yet, at the bottom of the page when you say the church is bigger than any denomination, i am not content to sit and die. the church is bigger and will prevail in some form or another. thus, to be presbyterian usa/eco/whatever letters come after, i believe it is to be faithful as a Christian first. i appreciate those who stay, but also those who choose to leave. from what i am hearing, if there were no trust clause (thus churches forced to pay a fee to leave) and even the negotiation of leaving is so difficult, i wonder how many other churches would choose to leave. if the pcusa is populated with small churches who simply exist and yet wish they were part of another body, what will that say for their identity? the real question is “do the churches who suffer from _______ want to get well?” and can churches choose to reach a certain demographic and be happy not to try to be all things to all people. some like traditional some don’t… why try to please everybody? most successful business find a niche and fill it. could the church take its cue on this one issue… maybe??? or will doing the same thing only slightly different find new success or will it be a futile attempt that yields the same results? questions… questions!

  4. Not long ago my wife and I visited a large Presbyterian church in an affluent neighborhood. I liked the church building, the music, and the liturgy. The pastor was a gifted preacher who spoke eloquently about the need for change, but did not give one example of possible change in the church. We were able to speak to the pastor briefly after the service and I asked him if he had any specifics in mind about how the church might change. He had none! We went away from this lovely church feeling empty inside. I sense that this pastor maintained his position by not rocking the boat, of not being willing to risk leadership concerning the great moral issues of the day. Would Calvin, Knox, or Luther have been so committed to maintaining the status quo that they would not have led the church to a better understanding of doing God’s will? Those who may read this paragraph may dismiss my concern by pointing out that my sample is too small. But I could write many more paragraphs about the failed leadership of our Presbyterian Church at many levels.

  5. Thank you, Shelly! The Presbyterian Church (USA) at its best is a community of people who are diverse in their theological beliefs but seek unity in their diversity, who take the responsibilities of their individual consciences seriously but who also are able to love those with whom they disagree. The beliefs we share are infinitely greater than the issues that separate us, so we can joyfully join in our worship of God.

  6. Shelly, this is wonderful–beautiful really. Thank you for writing and even more for sharing. As a stare at the vast expanse between me and what I perceive to be the finish line, it is difficult not to become a bit depressed. So, it is refreshing to have my eyes (and hopes) lifted to a further horizon, one that captures the scope and magnitude of God’s grand experiment a bit better.

    We are, indeed, children of God and the church and its fate rest not in our hands. Thanks be to God on both accounts.

  7. This is very applicable to the United Methodist Church as well. A UM Bishop once reminded us that the church is built on a rock and the gates of death cannot prevail against it. The Church of Jesus Christ is eternal.

  8. I’m 53, Lifelong Presbyterian. My church is typical PCUSA–I’m one of the younger people in it. Declining membership. The denomination in microcosm. And I believe simply justifying ourselves is blinding ourselves to the Gospel. The message of Jesus was POPULAR. Obviously there are cheap, pandering ways to popularity that we should rightfully avoid. But there are PLENTY of people out there with legitimate NEEDS. If we are not meeting them, then we need to ask ourselves…why not? Jesus said salt is thrown out when it loses its taste; a branch that does not bear fruit is pruned. Why are we being thrown out? Why are we being pruned? This is a time for humble self-examination and bold experimentation. It is a time to love the unloved. There are still many who are hungry for the Gospel; it is past time for us to feed them.

  9. Reblogged this on creating sacred communities and commented:

    For the past four days I have been slightly obsessed with watching the stats on this post. 5000 hits!

    I really appreciate the thoughtful responses below. Thank you! I have been contemplating the comment on clergy leadership (William Lee Goff) and the comment on the church trying to be all things to all people(Clay Faulk). In many ways both comments address the same overarching issue of clergy and congregational leadership having the maturity to be self differentiated enough to say, “this is who we are and this is who we are not,” and then accepting how people respond to those stated beliefs. This is not easy. I think both comments address core issue. Leadership and Identity.

    Let’s continue the conversation. Let’s continue working along side our Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian brothers and sisters and see if we can find a way to discern what must die, so that something else may live.

    A friend of mine once reminded me that at the end of psalms of lament, the last two stanzas always change from despair to hope and promise.

    I believe we are in the final two stanzas. Let’s start singing a new song.

  10. This is a beautiful piece that I discovered through a link in a Facebook post. I’ll be quoting some of it to my session this week, with proper attribution, of course.

    One small correction: You write, “I have decided to remain faithful to my denomination and its tenants.” I believe you mean “tenets” and not “tenants” given that you then state a theological principle. Then again, if we define tenant as someone who occupies another person’s property, you could be on to something; all church members are occupiers of an institution that ultimately belongs to Christ.

  11. Reblogged this on Nevada Presbytery and commented:
    Here is an article that might be of interest to you. They come from a blog called “creating sacred communities” which describes itself as follows: This blog is about community and what makes it sacred. Communities can be messy. They can also be Holy. By looking at topics of family, religion, and leadership, this blog strives to be an authentic conversation partner in a world that is hungry for sacred communities. As a Presbyterian minister, I am especially interested in what makes the church sacred. As a mother, I am in interested in what makes the family community sacred. As a child of God, I am interested in what makes our global community sacred. I hope this blog provides some space for joy and contemplation in your daily walk. Peace. Joan Jeffers

  12. Reblogged this on Rev.Espiritu.net — Rex Espiritu's blog for Leadership.WinchesterFPC.org and commented:
    Why stay Presbyterian? ….because I believe in the sovereignty of God.
    The church is not about us. It’s not about what makes us feel good or even what we get out of it. It’s not about being right and it’s not about being wrong. It’s never about the building. It’s about people and their desire to know their Creator, their Savior and their Redeemer. It’s about bringing people closer to the Holy both within themselves and with each other. It’s about recognizing that in spite of our sinfulness, Jesus can still do something with us. It’s about the fact that while we will all someday become dust, we will become part of the Communion of Saints, and for all eternity we will all have to sit at same Table….

    1. I find Calvin’s notion(s) regarding the “invisible church” in the midst of the “visible church” personally helpful in providing proper perspective. No institutional entity affected by the depravity of humanity will perfectly reflect its intended purpose or identity. If I am among the wrong, I do find ample prophetic Scriptural examples and warrant for staying as a possible remnant amidst and along with many in need of repentance. With deep humility and sobriety, the question for me becomes that of one’s own sense of call in their respective vocation(s). Am I called to continue to heed and honor my vows of ordination before the Lord my God through the present season of ministry within a particular ecclesiastical setting such as this—distinctive from an/y other(s) that endeavor to name Jesus Christ as head of the church? If discernibly so, in this reformed instance, I submit and surrender to the sufficiency of God’s grace and truth in Jesus Christ who alone is worthy of all blessing, honor, glory and power. As led by the Spirit of the Lord, I remain… ever under the mercy,

  13. PCUSA is godless and beyond remedy. PCA is following in their footsteps.
    I formally joined the PCA – but now I am wondering why.

    Where is God in this Babylonian confusion?

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