Wednesday, December 08, 2010

It Is Not That We Grow More Conservative... is that the Church grows more liberal.

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."
Winston Churchill
Never surrender, and just maybe the invasion of universalisecular-pluralism can be stopped, and guess what might happen then????


  1. Anonymous1:31 AM

    UP, I am writing this with the utmost respect because I, as a conservative Episcopalian, agree with so much of what you have to say. But I have become more and more distressed that at this, the season of Advent, when so many of us are waiting with reverent joy for the birth of Christ, that you seem so angry and so unhappy. If all that the Episcopal Church represents causes you so much pain, have you ever seriously considered leaving for a church that would answer your needs? I can't believe that God meant someone like you who is clearly so devoted to Him and to the Scripture to miss all of the comfort and light that He offers...there is some joy that church stumbling and politicking should never be able to take from you. Again, I only bring this up with the with the greatest respect---I think the EC would be poorer without your company, and of course I know nothing about you except what you publish here. But as someone who cares about you as a Brother in Christ, I would like for you to be happier than I think you are.

  2. Anonymous4:01 AM

    I'm with you, Underground. As well, though, in the specific case of Mr Wood, we need to take into consideration the results of ministry may be directly related to the particular spiritual gifts he was given by the Holy Spirit, such as a mix of leadership, administration, even apostleship.
    That kind of spiritual gifts mix should not be a cause of pessimism or even futilism among other clergy not gifted so. Rather, simple awareness and acceptance of their own gifts and what fruit they should be expecting in their own context.
    Which brings us back to your point, the ground which must be held and the surrender which must not be made. And that is not a matter of spiritual gifting, but the will to be faithful.

  3. Anon,

    You will be pleased to know that in a random sample of 10 adults prior to my first cup of coffee this morning, all agreed that I was insanely happy and not at all angry. And one of those sampled was a psychotherapist!

  4. Rob+,

    Thanks for the comment. The "will" to be faithful just might be what produces a spirit of determination, passion, and perseverance that some might mistake as "anger" or "conservatism."

    So should we defend the island or evacuate? The Rev. Wood's example seems to say that our defense is sure.

  5. Our AM mission has grown from 12 to 40 members in the past year. Small potatoes, but a big percentage (Lord, I know I am wrong to number Your people).

  6. The Holy Spirit touches Man and convicts him of his condition. The Holy Spirit doesn't exist in the mere words or thoughts of men, but in the Word itself. Straying from the Word is the fastest way to emasculate one's effectiveness.


  7. Anonymous2:34 PM


    My son, who reads your blog with the same interest I do, was horrified at my comment. He pointed out that this is a forum for discussing ideas, not making personal observations about the "head blogger." On re-reading what I wrote I think he is correct, and that I overstept my bounds. Please accept my apologies. And I am sure you are indeed happy. Apparently, unlike so many of the Scriptural heroes, I am not growing wiser as I age. From now on if I comment, I will stick to the topic and not "pschoanalyze" you. Again, my apologies.

  8. Anonymous3:30 PM

    Fear represents itself in the perception we are an island. Now, the people of the Solomon Islands have real trouble on their hands, and decisions to be made, if it can be proven the islands are inevitably "sinking."
    But for the Body of Christ, I don't see the Church (local or otherwise) as an island. Even though fear tells us otherwise (and the Enemy enjoys instilling such fear), and so we may feel that way, the Faithful never just sink into the sea, obliterated from existence.
    With boldness, then, it is not about evacuation to me, but about The Mission and the place of that Mission. Wherever you are, that's where it starts, or continues. Ultimately, we don't want just the island; we want the whole world.
    Blessings on your Mission where God has placed you, and standing firm in the Faith.