July 24, 2013

The Coming Collapse of the PC (USA)

By Jeff Gissing (@jeffgissing)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently released the findings of its “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011” (the report). More than 6,000 clergy and members of the PC (USA) were asked to participate in the study for a three-year period. The goal was to sketch a broad landscape of the denomination in demographic and theological terms. The report is available here in its entirety. In many respects the report is grim reading. In fact, it points to the coming collapse of the PC (USA)—demographic and theological realities will force the denomination to accept a new, diminished future.

The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the PC (USA) is old and white. 94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian,” as did the randomly selected Ruling Elders. Of clergy, 91% of pastors and 89% of specialized ministers (chaplains, professors, etc) reported their race as white. For all categories of respondent, more than 90% were born U.S. citizens. The study notes, most alarmingly, that the racial-ethnic makeup of the denomination has remained virtually unchanged in the last forty years. This discontinuity makes the future of the denomination untenable since it has not reached either immigrant communities or people of color in any meaningful way. While there are flickers of light in the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative, it seems to be rather too late for this to significantly offset coming losses.

The denomination also continues to age. The median age of members rose from 60 to 63 between 2008 and 2011. That means that if you were to list the ages of each of the member respondents, half of them would be older than 63 and half younger. The number is similar—62—for ruling elders. The report also indicates that almost 50% of church members are not employed, while only 7% of members report being “full-time homemakers.” Could it be that almost half of our church members are retired? Perhaps the PC (USA) should be called the AARP at prayer?

Pastor median age is 55 whereas for specialized ministers it is 57. As a point of comparison, the median age of the United States (as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau) is 36.8, a significant difference. If we isolate for race and report only non-Hispanic whites, the median age is still only 42.3.

This does not bode well for the future. Over the last forty years, the make up of our nation has changed considerably. That this change is all but absent in the profile of the PC (USA) suggests that it has been unable to effectively carry out the very essence of its stated mission—bearing witness to the kingdom of God in there here and now—which includes both ethnic and age diversity under the gospel.

What does the report show us about the devotional practices of members and clergy of the PC (USA)? 80% of pastors reported praying privately “daily/almost daily.” For members the number was less, 56%. It is, of course, difficult to discover a cause for this lack of attention to prayer. I’m sure there are numerous reasons, but it is alarming to think that one of the chief means of grace is so absent in the life of church members and even clergy.

The church is also not attending well to Scripture. Only 39% of members report reading the Bible weekly. For ruling elders the number is higher—49%. This is a serious problem. Where professed Christians are failing in the practice of prayer and of reading the Scripture, we can be sure that a sense of “cheap grace” will also be present. Scripture and prayer—both individually and corporately—shape us to follow Christ. Where they are absent, or unattended to, other voices and influences will exert power to form us.

This reality may contribute to the fact that 46% of members agree with the statement, “An individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church.” At play here is an autonomous individualism that cheapens the value of community in the formation of Christians. It’s promising, however, that 76% of pastors disagreed with this statement although that number really ought to be higher.

In terms of giving insight into the current battles raging within the PC (USA) and the exodus of evangelical churches, the report is quite helpful. Consider the following statement: “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” Among pastors, 45% disagreed or strongly disagreed. 41% agreed or strongly agreed. Among our clergy, there is a clearly demonstrable variance about a fundamental tenet of Christian belief that is central to the mission of the church—the proclamation of the Gospel.

Again, in terms of theological self-identification the report helpfully shows that pastors are split on how they identify themselves. 33% report that they are “very conservative or conservative” theologically. 33% report that they are moderate. 34% report that they are “very liberal or liberal.” That clergy leaders of the church express such fundamental disagreement suggests that the future of the PC (USA) as a single denomination is untenable. These beliefs are irreconcilable, which suggests that the best way forward is amicable separation or perhaps some degree of negotiated toleration of evangelical belief and practice in certain PC (USA) congregations.

Such divisions often come to light while discussing the nature of marriage and the increased support for same sex marriage in parts of the country. Incidentally, the PC (USA) is smallest in states that have approved same sex marriage. It is largest in the south, where states have repeatedly defended traditional marriage. Interestingly, church members are less enthusiastic about the potential of same sex marriages in the church. Respondents were asked whether they favored the PC (USA) permitting pastors to officiate at such services where provided for by state law. Only 30% of members and 33% of ruling elders favored this. Only 44% of pastors favored it, and 56% of specialized ministers favored it.

The narrative around the church’s discussions of same sex marriage has painted it as something supported by most and almost inevitable. This contention is demonstrably false. More likely is a mixture of ambivalence, ambiguity, and uncertainty in most that—when mixed with a healthy dose of culture’s laissez-fare mentality—produces the absence of any firm conviction or resolve to doctrinal purity.

God alone knows the future. Yet, in looking at the numbers there is much that ought to concern us about the future of the PC (USA). It is hard to imagine a future that does not include a significant diminishing of the cultural influence of the denomination. This influence has steadily been diminishing over the last forty years.

What is different about the future as forecasted by extrapolating the data in the study is that it is no long clear that the denomination can exist in any form resembling the PC (USA) we have known till now. In fact, it is likely that tomorrow’s PC (USA) will be a fraction of its present size. It’s financial resources will be stretched the breaking point. Young clergy will suffer as the Board of Pensions is forced to materially alter the terms of their retirement and insurance packages. As older clergy retire it cannot be taken for granted that paid clergy will fill those vacant pulpits. Yet, the denomination seems to be incapable of taking the drastic steps required to alter this possible future. In the end, this is a failure both of theological integrity and of organizational leadership.


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75 Responses to The Coming Collapse of the PC (USA)

  1. Mario Sly says:

    Consider the following statement: “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

    If Jesus is not the only way for salvation and redemption, then what is the point? Are we not to be pitied most? I Cor 15:19

    • Steve Stoller says:

      The truly fundamental issue in the PC-USA, of which I am a member, is being completely overlooked in the replies here and in other discussions. The fundamental issue is this: what is the proper AUTHORITY for deciding what is true and proper belief. Historically, until recently, Scripture has been the answer for Presbyterians. Some of the greatest Christian scholars, those most respectful of biblical authority, have been Presbyterians. The debates of today have their precedent in the slow drift toward acceptance of societal norms over scriptural tenets. And what is the greatest societal norm now? non-judgmental toleration of any point of view with scepticism toward the notion of absolute truth. Once the PC-USA allowed those views in its seminary and leadership, the rejection of scriptural teachings followed quite naturally.

      I remain in the denomination because our local congregation remains devoted, for the most part, to scriptural authority, offering some salt and light within the denomination. But I believe the death of the PC-USA is nigh, as soon as the current aging membership dies out. It’s very sad.

      • Bruce says:

        As of 2010 the acceptance of societal norms over scriptural tenets is officially in the NFOG, ( the new Book of Order).

  2. William says:

    As the line forms for the exit to the ECO and EPC denominations, one wonders how long before what is left of the PCUSA seeks merger with the denomination that has tread this path already, the United Church of Christ?

    • Alvin says:

      God has taken His lampstand from this synagogue of Satan as he does all such “churches” that stray from his law and gospel.

  3. Reformed Catholic says:

    Would love to see what a similar survey would show in the other Presbyterian denominations.

  4. George Miranda says:

    Mario, just to be Biblically accurate, we are to be most pitied (I Cor 15:19) if there is no resurrection of the dead. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Paul was not talking about Jesus as exclusive salvation. He was talking about whether we believers will be raised from the dead.

  5. Mark J. Goluskin says:

    As a communicant in anotther shrinking denomination, the Episcopal Church, I see that we are ahead of the point of no return. With the formation of the Anglican Church of North America, traditionalists as myself have someplace to go. BUT, I am not letting modernists tell me I am wrong and that they have the market on truth. One of the reasons that this is happening all across the Mainline’s is simple. Complacancy. It’s the “My church is OK. It’s the crazies on the other side of town or the national church. My church is fine.” Only it is not. Until we who stay in our denominations get over the complacancy, then this is the fate that awaits.

    • Episco-byterian says:

      as life-long Episcopalian and lay leader, who finally left due to the gay priest/gay marriage issue, and now have a “voice” as an elder, it seems I have no choice but to choose ECO/EPC over PCUSA. We have a third of our Presbytery seeking dismissal, not so much over the gay issues (who are we to condemn), but the GA’s decisions regarding Christ, sola scriptura, essential tenets and NFOG. God bless us all.

  6. PresbyMike says:

    This is my tribe and none of this surprises me. We have tried every spiritual and theological fad of the last 50 years except for an exuberant orthodoxy. Sadly, that is probably the least likely response we will take to head off our demise. Unlike the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, Jesus doesn’t have to remove our lampstand. We are already doing it for Him.

  7. Tom Richards says:

    The trends reflect similar ones in the larger society at least in regard to theological issues. I see our country in decline, due in some part to its loss of religious cohesion. There will come a time when the church will become a refuge in a increasingly wild milieu. I believe we should press on and try to keep the faith as best we can. In the near term it does appear we will have to fold up some of our tents and consolidate our resources. We should be looking to pay as you go as a rule now.

  8. Anne says:

    I always considered Presbyterians as liberal Christians. Why is it that the more liberal the Christian denomination and the more they try to get members, they actually lose members?

    • Lisa says:

      Individual Presbyterians were conservative historically, as many are today. Unfortunately, the PC(USA)’s leaders, clergy, and staff (including some presbyteries’ leaders, clergy, and staffs) have been very liberal in the past 5 decades (theologically and socially). It/they have supported increasingly left-wing political and social issues, contrary to most members’ beliefs. Conservative pastors and members are leaving the PC(USA) in growing numbers today, and establishing new churches.

    • Jon Maginn says:

      Anne, not all presbyterian denominations are liberals, in fact some such as the RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) and the OP (Orthodox Presbyterians) are very conservative in their understanding of doctrine, teaching and their worship. Presbyterianism is just the form of government that we have. There are a good number of different Presbyterian denominations.

    • Particular Baptist says:

      Obviously you never have listened to a minister from the Free Presbyterian Church.

  9. TimN says:

    The idea that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” is not a core Christian teaching. Was Moses really a follower of Jesus? What the Church teaches is that no-one can be saved except through Christ. He taught that we might well be surprised by those he chooses as his own. I would expect the bulk of these to be followers of Christ, but the choice is Christ’s and not ours.
    The insinuation that strongly disagreeing with the statement means that you have strayed from orthodox thinking implies a narrow form of fundamentalism at odds with the historic church, and the teaching of Jesus.

    • Jeffrey Gissing says:

      You point out some imprecision in my language, which is fair enough. Moses, in the language of our confessional heritage, is redeemed through the Covenant of Faith–faith in a Christ he saw only dimly in the future.

      Our confessional heritage also teaches that salvation is ordinarily through the church and by conscious faith in Christ and gives evidence of its validity by an awareness of being in Christ.

      Your response is misguided in that you, and many others, insist in making normative that which our confessional heritage claims is abnormal and exceptional.

      What you call “a narrow form of fundamentalism” is simply what I call Reformed theology.

    • Bradford Fisher says:

      Sigh. God Himself said that I am the way, and that no one comes to the Father but through me. It’s dangerous to disagree with God, and this is EXACTLY why denominations exist– to help keep people on the straight and narrow.

      Christ is THE way, not “a” way. This is why Christ sent the disciples (and now us) out into the world to share the good news of Christ’s sacrifice, death, and resurrection. Everyone has the chance at salvation, all you have to do is say “yes.” But you are also free to say “no,” in which case it’s going to suck for you.

      No one wants to think that atheists, muslims, etc. are going to burn in hell. It doesn’t seem “fair”, but God made the path to salvation quite clear. The sole path.

      Moses was a leader under the law. But we’re justified by faith, not law. Obviously he can’t be a “Christian” prior to Christ’s sacrifice, but God isn’t bound by time.

      of the good news, that God loves us, Christ died for our sins, and because of that sacrifice, we can be reconciled to God.

    • Particular Baptist says:

      Have you NEVER read the gospels? John 10.1-18 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my [sheep], and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, [and] one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”

  10. Forgiven Sinner says:

    No prayer…no scripture reading…no denomination…and more sadly…no salvation. But…homosexual pastors. The death of a great denomination by it’s own hand.

  11. Ric says:

    Come home to the Catholic Church. Find out why Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi converted, kicking and screaming (intellectually) the whole way. Myself? I’m a cradle Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism at the Easter Vigil…so much I thought about the Catholic church was utterly false. I took my time, investigating fully…it was probably 8 years in my case from the time I first decided to begin exploring. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life!

    • R Matthew Novak says:

      Leaving one apostate church for another is hardly a reasonable solution, Ric.

      • Samuel says:

        That is a serious charge, Matthew, and I hope that you will submit it to consideration in depth before leveling it again. It may be that, having examined it and found it wanting, you will want to include it in your first confession. 😉

        • BD says:

          A serious charge, to be sure. But accurate, for the most part, nonetheless. Apostate. Just like the PC(USA) and the Episcopal Church, to name a few.

    • Samuel says:

      As one former Anglican to another, welcome home, Ric. I fought the long defeat in both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Continuum for the better part of forty years and, finally concluding, with John Henry Newman, that no one who is deep in history can remain protestant (and that therefore all efforts to stem the apostasy of the mainstream confessional churches by returning to their Reformation roots are foreordained to failure), I entered a family of generosity and joy. Glad to have you.

    • Particular Baptist says:

      Come home to Rome means bone-splitting as the Whore drinks up blood in a great cup.

      http://www.bereanbeacon.org/new-blog/2015/6/19/scott-hahns-route-into-apostasy

  12. Larry says:

    When almost half the PASTORS deny the exclusivity of Christ, I’d say the collapse has already come.

  13. Mark says:

    94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian,”

    I’m not sure this statistic bears any significance. I suspect that if you surveyed the AME churches you’d find that 99.9% of their members are black. Does that mean they are collapsing? Protestant churches of any race or ethnicity seem to be more segregated than society as a whole.

    As a Catholic in SE Texas where there’s a lot of cultural influence from black Louisiana and Latin America, I find the segregation in protestant churches peculiar, but I think you may be reading too much into the race angle.

  14. jz_jz says:

    “Yet, the denomination seems to be incapable of taking the drastic steps required to alter this possible future”

    Such as what? The fact that he makes it sound as if there are clear answers that people might agree on without suggesting what they may be is disingenuous. The sad fact is Protestants made the decision 500 years ago that they could decide completely on their own what constitutes Christian truth. Once you’ve made that decision, I’m not sure how you can survive in a culture that has largely rejected Christianity. There really is nothing to prevent Protestants from over time again “changing” Christian truth.

  15. echarles1 says:

    If you protestants keep splitting up you will eventually arrive at a “church of one” for each of you.

  16. P. J. Southam says:

    “Can only followers of Christ be saved?” is a poorly worded question. Is the man (David) who wrote the words “The Lord is my shepherd…” not saved? How about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Isaiah, Daniel, and all of the people of God we read about in the Old Testament? How is a miscarried or stillborn child ever a follower of Christ? Are they thus not saved? I have sat in hospital rooms with parents and grandparents after stillbirths and miscarriages. I know what I said to them. What did you say to the people you ministered to in those situations?

  17. PatS says:

    I was raised Presbyterian and remember clearly a youth minister listing the Ten Commandments and having us think of situations when each one could be broken. I have lived most of my life wandering through that desert of moral relativism, due to the erroneous teaching from the Presbyterian Church. Now I’m Roman Catholic – for Truth (through Holy Scripture, The Magisterium, and Tradition) and Eternity (through the Sacraments). I love being Catholic. I pray for our reunion.

    • Midnight Lumen says:

      Amen, PatS. The basic tenets of Protestantism that were sown 400-500 yrs ago are now being reaped, and it is a painful, bitter harvest. I pray that dismayed believers of all stripes will find solace in The Church of the ancients instead of abandoning faith altogether.

    • Geoff says:

      I will give Rome credit for standing their ground on moral issues. Granted, they deny the gospel by denying justifcation by faith alone, so we could give the same kudos to Orthodox Judaism and Islam as we do to Rome if we don’t care about the gospel.

      • Samuel says:

        Geoff, Scripture refers to “justification by faith alone” in only one place: In James 2:24, to wit, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (KJV) In other words, the only place the idea is mentioned, it is refuted.

        The assertion that the denial of justification by “faith alone” constitutes a denial of the gospel is unsupported by a reading of the original Greek of Romans 3:28, and indeed is reflective of an insertion of the word “allein” [=alone] in Luther’s German translation, which one might take as an early example of “dynamic equivalency” in which the text is rendered in such a way as to support a position reached on other grounds.

        • Particular Baptist says:

          Yet, like a true Papist, you failed to remember the Apostle James preaches the same sola fide Paul does from another viewpoint. Moreover, you also seem to embrace Jesuit Richard Simon’s textual criticism. Jesus commented on works; he said, “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6.26-40).

    • Particular Baptist says:

      Reunion is exactly what your antichristian papacy desires, but the greater defection from truth is your own!

  18. Mike Poulin says:

    Sad to see acceptance embracing and promotion of sin so rampant in the ecclesial communities. Priests and pastors simply are not preaching on the reality of sin and Hell, a sin of omission. Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone; but that does not limit the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice and Resurrection only to those coming after Him in history. God is not bound by time. Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and “led a host of captives” Eph 4:8-10 which might have included the souls of the righteous like Abraham, Moses and David. Revelation says the abode of the dead (Sheol or Hades) will be destroyed leaving only two ultimate destinations: Heaven or Hell. Let Jesus Christ reign – Jesus I trust in you!

  19. L. Lee says:

    The basis of pastors and members not accepting that JESUS is the only way for salvation Is fundamentally a lack of believing
    that Jesus is God. Once you accept Jesus is God you also can accept that Moses, Abraham, David, Noah, Rahab and others
    In the Old Tesament had faith in God.
    Jesus is the incarnation of God and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence. This lack of faith means that there is an attempt to recreate an image of god/God that is based on humans limited view. The power that was available
    to those in the Old Testament is available to us by the Holy Spirit….but the church, the PCUSA is weak, sick, powerless and the facts in your article point to this.

    • Kathy says:

      Lee, I went clear to the bottom of these comments to say, very succinctly what you said. You said it so much better and it makes me feel I am on the right track. (I didn’t see the reply tag under the comment. I was answering Tim n.

  20. Geoff says:

    According to the book of Hebrews, Moses was looking forward to the Messiah and considered the riches of Egypt as nothing. The Old Testament saints looked forward to the coming Messiah. We look backwards. We don’t appreciate just how Messianic the Old Testament is.

    Furthermore, look at Romans 10. How can they be saved if they don’t believe and hear about Jesus? The assumption in the chain of logic is they can’t. That’s why the feet that bring good news are called blessed.

    • P. J. Southam says:

      You still didn’t answer my question. What did you say to those parents and grandparents in the hospital room who were holding the body of their stillborn child?

      • Jane says:

        Infants have not chosen to live in sin. Jesus paid for those who donot know their right hand from their left. David, upon hearing of the death of his son by Bathsheba said that the son would not come to him, but he would join him, a clear reference to the safety of his son in God’s arms. An innocent child is taken into the arms of the Good Shepherd. Fear not.

        • Kathleen says:

          Well said, but one might could say that those who turn away from Christ are still infants who do not know their right from left hand. Interesting conversations on this thread–shows me that the PCUSA is alive and well!!

        • P. J. Southam says:

          So, do you believe in Original Sin? It appears that you do not. Sin is a condition that all human beings have inherited from our first parents. No one is innocent, not even the pre-born. God will have mercy and grace on those God chooses, even on some who are not able to become followers of Jesus, such as the pre-born. Just because God has mercy on them does not make them innocent. Jane, thank you for your reply. May God bless your hospital chaplaincy work as he blesses mine.

  21. Sean Johnston says:

    “An individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church.”

    This seems inevitable given the differences shown within the clergy as evidenced by the statistics in the article. Personally, I struggle to participate in our own church’s organized activities as I see more and more of the clergy’s leadership working hard to push our church more and more towards its own liberal leanings. It’s very disturbing personally.

    The PCUSA has lost the feel for its members, most of whom belong to the larger denomination solely because of the individual’s local church community. And, yet, the church leadership continues to pursue its own initiatives regardless of the individual churches. One can tout the democratic process within the GA but I struggle to see where individual congregations are properly represented.

    The membership is much like the US voting population in that ambivalence, which has been creeping, is now becoming much more pervasive. At the political level, the deck is so stacked against challengers. It makes it so difficult for the voters to have an actual voice.

    It’s much the same in the PCUSA with movements in directions that many in within the membership would disagree but feel helpless to address. They remain at the church, not because of a feeling of connectivity with others within our denomination (as the ministers seem to profess). Rather, they remain because of the local relationships and the connectivity that exists at that level. Most would be offended if they were aware of the various issues with which the larger church is involved. I suspect, too, that they remain as they are aware of problems within other churches/denominations.

    It’s a shame to sit here on a Saturday evening and discuss whether we are going to church tomorrow not because of other pressing plans but because growing ambivalence and apathy. It’s no wonder that more and more individuals are stating that they are pursuing their own personal avenues. It would appear to be logical avenue for those who struggle with their own beliefs and have diminishing faith in the leadership to represent them.

  22. Nemo_from_Erhwon says:

    A rough paraphrase of this article might be “Our religion is not really important to us, come join us.”

    Not hard to understand why that message doesn’t resonate.

    • Sean Johnston says:

      I’m not sure I understand. You’re paraphrasing, “An individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church” ?

  23. William J. Martin says:

    The PCUSA is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet. I wrote six years ago to the LAYMAN that this denomination recalls the story of the high priest Eli’s daughter-in-law, giving birth to her son as Eli and his sons died, famously said, “The glory has departed [from Israel.]”

    It’s more tragically true today than ever.

  24. Dan says:

    As an attender of a large PCA congregation in an east coast city, I guess its not surprising that I’d say that the PCUSA is already dead. It seems every year, there is some new atrocity that they commit in the name of being relevant. Meanwhile, churches like mine continue to thrive despite not really caring about trends.

  25. Anna E says:

    Come home already, guys! Christ is missing you, desiring you, longing for you in His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church.

  26. John says:

    I am a former very active Presbyterian (PCUSA) who left the denomination for good some dozen years ago. Yes, I was disturbed by church leaders’ increasing accommodation to American secular values, distorting and re-interpreting our historical faith in order to conform to their novel modern American liberal fantasies of how things ought to be. I witnessed and shared the anguish of life-long Presbyterians as they saw eternal verities come crashing down in flames – shot down by their pastors, their “betters” in Louisville, and the products of their affiliated seminaries.

    More than this, I saw an organization – made up of wonderful, sincere, often loving Christians, including our marvelous pastor – that appeared to be going through the motions of being the Body of Christ, but which so often lacked love, direction, beauty, humility – and above all a sense of the Holy.

    I watched formerly-powerful retired business executives running meetings like corporate honchos. Lots of committees with snappy acronyms, ten-point plans, recruitment and capital campaigns. And the concomitant power struggles, back-biting and behind-the-scenes maneuvers. Glib, ex tempore-though-predictable prayer, wooden humility, no discernable feeling of repentance or deep awareness of sin. Hand-waving and snappy songs, but no drop-to-the-ground awe-filled worship of God, no deep sense of the Sacred or the miraculous, no being permeated and filled and literally borne up by God’s love, or frightened at His majesty.

    When you’re cut off from God’s grace for some unfathomable reason, stubbornly assume that what you’re doing is God’s will, and plow forward under your own steam. That’s how it came to feel. Strained, grim, assaulted from within your own denomination by the World. All this “feeling” stuff was highly subjective, of course, and likely it was just us. But my wife and I finally looked at each other during a service – I whispered “I can’t do this any more”. “Neither can I”, she said. We never looked back, and will never return.

    We embarked on a years-long program of study and experiencing different denominations. This led us to investigate the (to us) unknown world of “Eastern Christianity” – the Eastern Orthodox Church, more precisely – which resulted in a series of surprises, shocks, and undreamed-of revelations about history, theology, the development of Christian thought in Western Christendom…

    …and that has made all the difference, thanks be to God.

  27. Birdstrike says:

    I agree with Ric, Anne and PatS – come home to the Catholic Church.

    I wandered around in the denominational wilderness for 40 years – and was floored by what I found (I found that I’d been lied to about what the Church really taught). After reading the Bible my whole life, I found the Roman Catholic Church be the MOST biblical!

    The Reformation may have given the Church a needed jolt to clean up its practices, but the reformers unfortunately introduced new doctrines (the “solas”), which in actual practice, make “private judgement” the highest authority. Unfortunately, the problem of authority will never be solved outside the Church with a legitimate apostolic pedigree.

  28. Joshua Waulk says:

    @Birdstrike: It’s my understand that history shoes us that hundreds of years ago, the King of England himself appointed a pope of the RC, whose line the RC seats and serves to this day. Where’s the apostolic succession in that?

  29. Mark says:

    Hehe – I’m getting a good chuckle out of the RC comments on here. As if the RCC has a unified understanding of truth. Hey – how about them sedevacantists?

    And how exactly are you significantly different from the PCUSA’s problem, when your leaders regularly pray in temples to idols? When they openly say that Christ is not the only way to heaven, and that others who deny the faith will still have eternal life (muslims for example), and of course the wishy-washy statements on the issue of homosexuality, and the utter failure to actually hold their own members accountable on the issue of abortion.

    But hey – they’ve got it all squared away, so just “go home” to Rome, where you can have the same problems as the PCUSA, only you get to have a works-based gospel instead of a social one.

    Yay!

  30. R Matthew Novak says:

    I pray that those 30% of pastors who claim to be conservative (representing one million souls) would find the courage to unite together, leave their property behind, and come into communion with the PCA. With 1.5 million members honoring the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission, we might be able to save more people like Birdstrike, Ric, Anne, and PatS from being sucked back into the apostasy and idolatry of the Roman and Eastern churches, as well as providing a solid home for disillusioned evangelicals seeking the historic Christian faith. God help us.

  31. Frank says:

    All the talk about the “collapse” of the PCUSA, or the UMC, or the EPUSA, or the ELCA, always seem to have a glimmer of glee to them. Clearly, there are significant differences between liberal and conservatives when it comes to theology, but it is troubling to see this attitide of bitterness among Christians. While we cannot deny that the mainline Protestant denominations are diminished in numbers, I’ve wondered if all of the talk about this matter fails to consider a few things: 1) Yes, the numbers are declining, but has anyone determined whether at least some of that shrinkage is related to better reporting? While it coincides with liberalization of the churches, it also coincides with the advent of the computer and then the internet. Is it possible that the numbers we see today are, to some degree, simply reflecting a more accurate reportage of the state of the churches?; 2) Acknowledging that the mainline churhes are not what they once were numerically, even if my theory about reporting of numbers has any basis, I can offer anecdotal evidence of mainline congregations that are thriving – but only after embracing liberalism. Over the past decade I’ve been a member of two United Methodist Churces. One was on its way to being shuttered when it suddenly saw a new era of growth after embracing the local gay community and those who support them. One was another aging congregation that had typical Sunday attendance of about 20 people. This is a churchin a major US city, by the way, so there were plenty of folks around to attend – they just didn’t. I had walked past this church countless times and not even noticed it. Today, after making clear that it is a church for all people, Sunday attendance is up to 100. In between being a member of these two churches, I attended an Episcopal Church that is definitely on the liberal end of the spectrum. And full on Sundays, and now looking at a new building project to expand their facilities. Instead of looking at overall numbers, I think it may be better to look at why these liberal congregations – as opposed to liberal denominations – are making an impact in their communities and seeing renewed life after years of decline.

    • Cody says:

      I relate to your comment very much. I live in two towns and attend several services. I go to two Episcopal and two ELCA churches. The conservative ones are dying and the liberal ones are prospering. People on here act like the RCC and evangelical churches aren’t dying when they are. The biggest growing churches are pretty liberal.

  32. John says:

    I went through Sunday school in ans was confirmed i n the Presbyterian church (then UP) and never once heard the gospel. The PCUSA (ne UP) has been dead for a long time. Now the scent of decomposition is getting too strong to ignore.

  33. Mary says:

    Really? The whole reason I joined this church was because of its liberal values.

    • Cody says:

      Same reason I’m joining the ELCA! The liberal churches are losing their conservative members in huge masses but are beginning to be renewed with liberals leaving the RCC and evangelical churches.

  34. Kathy says:

    Tim n,
    Wasn’t Jesus God incarnate when He was here? Didn’t Moses believe in God? It’s all God. It’s all good.
    Kathy

  35. Bob says:

    Mark: You may be very correct in the the RCC has their own set of contentions; males only club, “conservatives” vs “liberals”, celibate clergy, etc. Where do your denominational loyalties lie? Which church would be your “True Church”. I’m a “social liberal” and a nominal (and there’s a problem with me too) PC (USA) member but if the denomination is doomed to failure, where do you suggest I go? Martin Luther’s problem with the RCC wasn’t mainly theology but it’s indulgence-selling practice. I don’t believe he really wanted to create new denominations, especially not Lutheranism. So much for reformed traditions. RCC/Eastern orthodox both claim to be “True”. If not them, then what?

  36. Bob says:

    So where does a “liberal” PC (USA) member go? Saying the denomination will be going going gone may become a self fulfilling prophesy; If enough members believe it, they’ll go elsewhere and the denomination WILL wilt away. Granted that individual congregations may adapt to the times and thrive but as a whole, membership in PC (USA), ELCA and the like are losing folks. Where to go? RCC is way too conservative and in my mind too tradition bound. Anyone belong to the Orthodox Church in America? Where oh where do liberal leaning folks go?

  37. Kurt says:

    The terms liberal and conservative confuse the issue. They work OK in politics all though they can be somewhat misleading there. Things really need to be framed in the context of which things hold to those ideals passed to us by Devine Revelation (the Bible). We either hold to them or we don’t (by redefining them on secular terms). This redefinition had been ongoing since the Protestant Reformation and will continue. It seems each denomination has takes the things it likes with them and deleted, redefined or retranslated those things it doesn’t.

  38. Jean says:

    We left the progressive pcusa because of its anti Israel stance and its sudden virulent anti semitism preached from the pulpit. This is insulting and ignorant. We deplore the take over of the general assembly and local presbyteries by anti Semites. We attend a community non denominational church. Presbyterian churches are nothing but social activist groups.not a shred of spirituality in this new organization. Pity so many churches are closing as members run for the hills to get away from these kooks.

  39. Dorothy says:

    “Old and white” is not the problem. Dishonestly placing politics above God is the problem.

    • Sean Johnson says:

      Could not agree more. The leadership is hiding behind its “democratic” structure and misreporting on the statistics, all while the departure of the more conservative churches has the denomination lurching more sharply to the left each year.

    • Boyd says:

      When the PCUSA’s own studies show that it is led by Pastors who neither read their bible and now have 45% who disagree with the fundamental gospel teaching that, “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” I think it’s pretty clear where the problem lies. It’s no longer a church, it’s a Progressive social club.

      • Particular Baptist says:

        When any church abandons the basic creed- sola scriptura, sola fide, sola Christus, soli Deo gloria and sola gratia, it surely has made an agreement with hell.

  40. Chang He says:

    “It’s financial resources will be stretched the breaking point.”

    Perhaps you should stop wasting money suing those who would peaceably separate from the denomination and head for more biblically based pastures.

  41. Spurgeoun says:

    The fundamental cause of PCUSA’s decline is Calvinist Predestination. Anyone can be damned or saved. Leading a sinful life or virtuous life is of no consequence in this life or the next, because god has already made his choice. You have nothing to do with it. You can do nothing about it.

    By rendering human life meaningless, the church is itself meaningless. It’s prayers, rituals and community is empty of any consequence, usefulness, or purpose in the face of gods predestined eternal choice. So its not surprising that people who have not grown up in the church or are not long time members, find this message to be uncompelling.

    It is gods sovereign will that PCUSA falter, we can do nothing about it.

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