A copy of a recent short article by Tim Funk in the Charlotte Observer was thrust into my pocket the other day at coffee hour. I did not see the hand behind the missive, but after taking the clipping back to my underground lab and having it analyzed, I think I can identify the tell tale imprint of that old denizen of the dark, Deep Pew.
The story is about the retirement of the Rev. William Wood from First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte after 27 years as their pastor. During that time the church grew from 1200 members to 2200, "revenues" have gone from $600,000 to 6 million dollars, with this all occurring during a period of decline in the Presbyterian Church that parallels the decline in T.E.c. and other "mainline" denominations.
So what made First Pres. in Charlotte different?
Could it have been the preaching?
"William Rikard, a lawyer who served on the search committee that brought Wood to First Presbyterian, said he's (Wood) lived up to his early promise."
"'We saw a young minister who was full of energy and a willingness to preach with force and vigor,' Rikard said. 'He started that way and he has finished that way.'"
Or was it because Wood did not yield to the pressures of the modern age?
"Wood has his critics. Some have not forgotten that, though he welcomes gays and lesbians into the church, he voted in the 1990s to keep the ban on non-celibate homosexuals as clergy in churches affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA)."
Or was it his stance against secularism?
"At Davidson, first as a board member and later as an ex-board member, he fought a proposal that eventually allowed the election of non-Christians to the governing body at the school founded by Presbyterians."
Oh, you say, he sounds like a preacher who has grown too conservative over time. To that Wood answers,
"A lot of the leaders in the Presbyterian church have become so liberal," he said. "I have stayed in the same place."
We in T.E.c. often say the same thing, that the church's leftward drift makes us look more and more curmudgeonly with the passing years while in reality we haven't changed. Tensions occur when the left pulls so hard against the Bible (which does not move) that the people in the pews become confused and begin to wander. Such tensions require the strong arms of a preacher who teaches the simple truths to be found in the Bible to rein in his flock and to gather in the lost, especially during this time of increasing secularism, worldliness, and religious pluralism.
Having witnessed first hand the inevitable decline that occurs when the Word of God gets stripped of its power by being preached as the word of man, I am left to wonder if the mainline denominations, apart from a handful of stalwarts like the Rev. Wood, have sown the seeds of not only their own destruction, but also the destruction of the birds who happen to build their nests in those swaying branches of Christendom that do not root themselves on the solid rock that is the witness to our salvation.
Vic Van Den Bergh heard a question/statement this past week that he posted as I was finishing up this piece. It is as applicable to any denomination as it is to the CoE.
"Why don't those people who are the leaders of our denomination keep to God's Word and why don't they help (and protect) us ordinary people from having a line that just keeps on moving! Surely," they said, "What we believe must be constant and so those in leadership should be helping us maintain our consistency, not keep changing that which we believe to accomodate others or make us acceptable to others!"
Instead of redrawing increasingly vague, wavy lines, I was reminded what leaders are supposed to do and say,
"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."Never surrender, and just maybe the invasion of universalisecular-pluralism can be stopped, and guess what might happen then????