Saturday, July 21, 2012

Trouble for Local Presbyterian Church

Are Elders Disturbing the Peace at LMPC?

Your religion correspondent here at the Mississippi Metropolitan Messenger received a call a few days ago from one of the elders at the Large Mixed Presbyterian Church informing us of trouble at the church. The majority of the Session (note to readers: the governing body of the local church) has made some decisions he believes threaten the harmony of a congregation known for its love and unity. He promised to scan and send to us a copy of a June letter sent to the congregation and signed by the minister and clerk on behalf of the Session.

The letter contained the usual sentiments you would expect to read in a pastoral letter. I share with readers the parts that have upset some:

“1. Beginning in September all our children’s and teens classes will use the Great Commission Publications (GCP) curriculum. GCP is the publishing arm of our denomination and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is committed to produce materials consistent with the doctrinal standards of our church (Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms). We agree with our pastor, who told us prior to his coming three years ago, that it is important for the truths taught in the classroom to be consistent with those preached from the pulpit. We are also convinced that, as the culture becomes more secular and many Christians less familiar with the Bible, it is important for our young people to be firmly grounded in the content of the Bible and in the faith (doctrines) and life (conduct) taught in the Bible.

“2. Beginning with the Winter Quarter (December – February), we will approve all media (literature, videos, etc.) used in the Adult Classes. We ask the Director of Christian Education and Sunday School Superintendent, and teachers through them, to submit proposals no later than October 15. This will allow time for review of materials as well as for making any adjustments that may be needed.

“3. Before September 1 we will ask all teachers to sign this agreement: ‘I promise that, when the curriculum affirms truths taught the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, I will teach those truths without alteration, and further that I will not introduce teaching that is contrary to these Standards.” We are not requiring that all our teachers subscribe to the Westminster Standards as our officers do but simply that they teach not teach contrary to the Standards and that they teach the distinctives of the Reformed faith when these are taught in the curriculum.”

“4. To these ends we will offer, and ask all teachers who have not taken ordination vows to attend, an 8 week class taught by our Associate Pastor, on the Shorter Catechism. The class is open to anyone, but will be required for those who want to teach beyond January 1. The class begins the first Sunday in October.

The elder was kind enough also to supply me with a copy of a letter sent to the Session. He informed me this letter was signed by 5 of the 14 elders and by 23 of the 57 teachers. Again I share with my readers the relevant parts:

“We appreciate the Reformed faith expressed in the Westminster Standards, though the language is out of date, the references to past controversies irrelevant, the length off-putting, and the contents beyond the average teacher. We also find the precise doctrinal statements not very practical and some of the detailed moral teachings somewhat legalistic.  

“We know all our teachers believe in Jesus, love, and try to follow him and are faithful members of our church, many of longstanding and some new to us. We feel a relationship with Jesus is the primary and really the only necessary qualification for a teacher, especially of children.

“We would not want to try to “instruct” the elders, but we question whether these new policies are really and truly “Reformed.” Didn’t the Reformation give us the priesthood of all believers, the right of private interpretation, and freedom of conscience? Can’t we trust our teachers to read the Bible for themselves and the Holy Spirit to guide them? Are we in danger of having a “Paper Pope” imposed on us? Are we willing to “put God in the box” of a statement written almost 375 years ago?

“We are concerned about some of “trends” of our church since the new pastor arrived. Some of our most talented people have left because they can no longer use their gifts on a worship team. We use the screens and praise songs less and that Trinity Hymnal and its old songs more. We do not go away from church feeling uplifted and equipped to realize our God-given potential. We see the Session becoming more heavy-handed. Now we have this new Sunday School policy. What is happening to our formerly warm and happy church?

“We want our church to be interested in reaching people for Jesus and showing our people how to live joyful grace-based lives. We  are very afraid of this legalism and what it will do to our church’s ministry in this community.”

 All this Presbyterian stuff is over the head of your Methodist reporter and probably his Baptist readers, though I, and perhaps you, find the disturbance at LMPC interesting to follow. We promise to keep you informed as this thing plays out in the months to come.

We will not be surprised if at least some of these Presbyterians practice the Baptist method of church planting – going off to start another church.

The idea for the above parody did not originate with The Curmudgeon. He was put up to it by the news editor at an online publication after the editor saw an article critical of a Roman Catholic Bishop who imposed a loyalty oath on teachers within his diocese. This blog is purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any Presbyterian churches alive or dead is purely coincidental. 

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