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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Far Has the Presbyterian Church in America Fallen?

"In the first place many men want peace at any price.  They automatically flee from trouble.  With them it is virtually a principle to never oppose anyone.  In contrast, Athanasius  is honored because he stood firmly against something.  For this reason his epitaph, engraved on the soul of history, reads Athanasius contra mundum."  Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity.  (Jefferson: The Trinity Foundation, 1985) p. 20.

Contra mundum means "against the world".


How Far Has the Presbyterian Church in America Fallen?

by Charlie J. Ray


I recently moved back to my hometown in Bowling Green, Florida.  As a Reformed Anglican, I immediately began looking for a good Reformed church.  Since most Anglican churches or Episcopal churches are either charismatic, Anglo-Catholic, or liberal or some combination of the three there is little choice for the Anglo-Reformed person except to seek refuge in a Reformed church of some other denomination.  Unfortunately in many small southern towns there are few choices.  As far as I know the only Reformed church in Wauchula, which is the county seat and about five miles away, is a small church in the Presbyterian Church in America, namely Faith Presbyterian Church.  The only other option is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in Bartow, Florida, which is around 20 miles from here in Polk County, Florida.

The only option for a Reformed person--particularly disaffected Reformed Anglicans--here is to seek refuge in another Reformed denomination.  That usually means a Presbyterian church or a Dutch Reformed church if possible.  The Reformed Baptist option is a distant third option.


The only calvinistic Baptists in our area are the Primitive Baptist denominations.  Since my late maternal grandfather was a Primitive Baptist I investigated out of curiosity.  Unfortunately, what I found was an extreme anti-intellectualism and a lack of theologically trained ministers.  The Mount Enon Primitive Baptist Association of Florida actually has a fairly good doctrinal statement in The Articles of Faith.  The problem is I found that most of its ministers, being lay ministers, are taught orally with not much reading other than the Bible itself.  Several of the ministers told me that in other areas of the world where the Gospel has not been preached that God sovereignly elects and many of them will be saved.  (See Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Article XVIII).  This is inherently a form of universalism and outright denies that God has appointed the means of saving His elect through the preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments or "ordinances" if you prefer the Baptist term.  Primitive Baptists do not believe in evangelism, missions, Sunday school or Christian education of any kind.  That would explain why the denomination remains just a handful of people and seems to be a dying religion.  In fact, if you find fifteen or twenty people show up for church it is usually because they are a migrating congregation.  What I mean by that is the people, like the pastors, itinerate from one church to another on given Sundays.  Payne's Creek Primitive Baptist Church meets on the third Sunday of the month and Corinth Primitive Baptist meets on the first Sunday.  Both of these churches are near my home.  When I visited I found some of the folks there had driven from St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Ocala, Okeechobee and others were local.  This gives the illusion of life but given the sparsity of churches and the great distance between them it shows that the Primitive Baptist denomination is virtually on the edge of dying out, judging from what I have observed in the Mount Enon Primitive Baptist Association.  (See Primitive Baptist churches in Florida).  So it would appear that the Primitive Baptists are not a viable option either, although the Primitive Baptists do use wine for communion.  That would mean that they do properly administer the sacrament.

The only other option for disaffected Reformed Anglicans or Reformed Episcopalians is Peace Valley Lutheran Church, Wauchula, Florida, which is part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I enjoyed taking communion with the Lutherans since their observance of the Lord's Supper most closely resembles the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  In fact, I might need to find out when they regularly have communion since the PCA here does not properly administer the sacrament.  I say that because the Presbyterians here, following the Methodists, use grape juice rather than wine and wine is obviously the biblical precedent for the elements:  bread and wine.

The local Episcopal Church USA or The Episcopal Church is St. Ann's Episcopal Church and is basically a mission church served by a retired chaplain, Jim McConnell, who itinerates between five mission churches.  He is also extremely Anglo-Catholic complete with bells and smells and all the popery that comes with that package.

I have been somewhat regularly attending Faith Presbyterian Church because I attended there as a pre-teen when the pastor was  Russ Toms, who guided the congregation during the controversy over women's ordination in the mid 1970s.  The church eventually split, giving up its property rights to the Presbyterian Church in the United States, now known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  You can read a brief history of the formation of the church on the Genealogy web, Faith Presbyterian Church.  Rev. Toms is now with the Lord but his wife still attends at Faith Presbyterian.

The current pastor is Brook Larrison (1995-present), who converted from the Christian Missionary Alliance to the PCA because he became more Reformed in his theology.  Unfortunately, the congregation today is aging with only one or two young families.  The congregation is maybe a quarter of the size it was under the leadership of Reverend Toms in the mid-1970s.

I found several things that I personally disliked just walking in the door.  First of all, the worship service is low church for even a Presbyterian congregation--although in Reformed Anglicanism Evangelicals are low church without rejecting the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in worship or the more Reformed vestments of the Ornaments Rubric of Edward VI's second year.  I say this because during worship, although many hymns are sung,  there is a period where there is about 5 minutes wasted while the congregation sits to hear a pre-recorded "pop" contemporary Christian song played over the public address audio system.  The theology of these kinds of songs is often questionable for one thing.  The other objection I have is why is the congregation sitting passively instead of being involved in the liturgy at this point?  The other observation I made was that the hymnal was not the Trinity Hymnal or any other distinctively Reformed hymn book but something more broadly Evangelical.

On the positive side there is a congregational confession of sin and a reciting of either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed.  The confession of sin is actually taken from the Morning Prayer service from the 1662 on about every other Sunday.  The other Sundays an ad hoc confession of sin is built using random Scriptures.  There is no lectionary followed, however.  This means that there is no reading from the Psalter, often no Old Testament text, no reading from the Epistles or the Gospel unless it is a short pericope for the topical sermon.  The sermons are generally thirty minutes in length and often contain mostly law, though there are gospel references thrown in.  But the familiar pattern of law-gospel becomes gospel-law or even mostly law I've noticed.  The solution seems to be more law rather than more gospel for Rev. Larrison.

Although Rev. Larrison's sermons are fairly Reformed, I've noticed that many of his sermons are topical rather strictly expositional.  He also deviates into the political realm and what I would call reconstructionist themes, although I am unsure whether or not he would consider himself a reconstructionist.  I would love to hear him preach through a book of the Bible but that does not appear to be part of his preaching plan.

My main objection so far, however, occurred in last Sunday's adult Sunday school class.  The regular teacher is Doc Helveston, a former Reformed Baptist.  Saturday night Doc had a severe stroke and was unable to teach so the pastor, Brook Larrison took over.  This was to be the first Sunday of covering new material, which was to be a class on the cult utilizing Ruth Tucker's book, Another Gospel.  During the discussion, Brook explained the marks of a cult as believing in special revelation apart from the Bible, hyper-authoritarianism, extreme peer pressure and "mind control", etc.  But as he was explaining that Christian denominations are within the realm of orthodox Christianity he made the following blunder:  he said that what constitutes an orthodox Christian church is adhering to the three ecumenical creeds.   Now on the surface this sounds great.  But on deeper reflection it really means that Scripture is not the final authority but rather the creeds take the forefront.

So I pressed the issue and asked, "But what about Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox?  Are they Christians?" 

To which Brook responded, "Yes, they are."

So being the pig-headed fundamentalist I am, I said, "Well, I fail to see how anyone could be genuinely Christian who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and believes what that church teaches.  They teach false doctrine like works righteousness, prayers to the saints and Mary, that tradition is equal to Scripture and is special revelation from God, etc."

Brook responded, "But they do believe in Jesus and I would not want to judge who is saved and who is not.  Although I agree with you that the Roman Catholic Church has teachings that we do not agree with I cannot say that Roman Catholics are not Christians."

My response was, "Well, we can argue from here to eternity about whether or not individuals in the Roman Catholic Church are saved.  But the fact is the Westminster Confession of 1647 called the Roman Catholic Church a 'synagogue of satan' and the pope was called an "antichrist".  I don't see how someone can believe in Jesus if they are being taught false doctrine week after week.  A truly born again Christian would leave the Roman Catholic Church and look for a true church that preaches the Gospel.  The definition of a true church according to the magisterial Reformers is a congregation where the Gospel is rightly preached and where the sacraments are rightly administered.  The Roman Catholic Church fails on both counts since it preaches salvation by works and administers seven sacraments in a sacerdotal system."  [Those are not the exact words but a rendering of them as I remember it unfolding].

Actually, this issue goes all the way back to Charles Hodge of the Old Princeton Seminary who challenged his Presbyterian denomination when it ruled that baptism in the Roman Catholic Church was invalid because it was improperly administered and because the Roman Catholic Church is essentially preaching another gospel.  The legacy of Hodge and his adherence to common grace has led to the current state of apostasy at Princeton Seminary and the Presbyterian Church USA.  Hodge's view was that Roman Catholics are indeed "Christians" at least in a secondary sense, although one gets the impression that Hodge thought that Roman Catholics were not in need of conversion and were "saved".

Unfortunately these days co-belligerency has led many Evangelicals and even Reformed persons to accept the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy as legitimate churches simply because they affirm the creeds.  But this ignores the fact that Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are semi-pelagian on soteriological issues, including rejecting Augustinianism and the doctrine by which a church stands or falls, justification by faith alone.  While most Protestant denominations, including the semi-pelagian Arminian Wesleyans, still accept the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the other four solas--grace alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, and all glory to God alone--Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox reject all five solas and instead practice idolatry, preach salvation by works, and make tradition special revelation equal with Scripture, etc.  Roman Catholics go even further and say that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth. 

The Reformed response in the 16th century was to say that impure churches which mixed faith with works were "synagogues of satan" and that the pope was an "antichrist":


4. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible.1 And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.2


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1 Rom. 11:3,4; Rev. 12:6,14

2 Rev. 2 and 3 throughout; 1 Cor. 5:6,7

5. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;1 and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.2 Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.3

See also: WLC 61


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1 1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 2 and 3; Matt. 13:24-30,47

2 Rev. 18:2; Rom. 11:18-22

3 Matt. 16:18; Ps. 72:17; Ps. 102:28; Matt. 28:19,20

6. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ.1 Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; [but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.2 ]


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1 Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22

2 Matt. 23:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:3,4,8,9; Rev. 13:6   [From Westminster Confession, Chapter 19:  Of the Church.]

What is a true church anyway?  The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion  states the doctrine clearly and succinctly:

Article XIX
Of the Church


The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.  (See Article XIX).

Rev. Larrison's response is just further evidence of the decline in the knowledge and teaching of the Reformed standards.  His view seems to be to not make waves and not to teach the Westminster Standards or make an issue of them lest any potential new member be offended, particularly if they happen to be Arminian.   However, his broad evangelical strategy does not seem to be working since the membership of the church is dwindling.  In fact a couple of young families left since I have been visiting in the past few years when I came home to visit relatives.

I have to wonder why Presbyterians are ashamed of being distinctly Reformed and why they are downplaying their own doctrinal standards?  The Presbyterian Church in Wauchula was once a thriving church when its ministers preached expository sermons and focused on teaching people the Reformed faith.  But when latitudinarianism sets in via the reconstructionist co-belligerency mindset, then the gospel gets lost in postmillennialist optimism for political change.  Whatever happened to the two kingdom theology of the Presbyterian churches?  Documents like the Manhattan Declaration and Evangelicals and Catholics Together have brought in liberalism, latitudinarianism, and compromise of the gospel and the doctrines of grace.  Although conservatives see this as fighting the culture war against political liberalism they have unwittingly sold out the gospel to law, relativism, and cultural accommodation--something they "think" they are opposing!  Perhaps more folks ought to read Mike Horton's book, Christless Christianity?

I have been criticized for being too narrow and pig-headed.  But remember that the church which stands for nothing will fall for anything.  I do consider myself a "neo-fundamentalist" and Anglo-Reformed.  However, I do not reject theological education and I'm certainly not anti-intellectual.  The current state of a broader orthodoxy in Evangelicalism has for all practical purposes tried to erase the Protestant Reformation and remove the anathemas of Council of Trent and other Roman Catholic denunciations of Protestants as "heretics".  But the fact remains that the great divide between Rome and Geneva/Wittenberg/Canterbury still exists today.  Those who ignore it do so at the peril of their own souls and the souls of those who are under their pastoral oversight and care.  Latitudinarian tendencies are an incipient form of theological liberalism and relativism and ultimately lead to the apostasy of individuals and of the denominations of which they are members.

While I am not saying that I would not recommend Faith Presbyterian Church, Wauchula, Florida, I am saying that the church is in shambles if judged by the Reformed standards.  The true congregation ought to be continually reforming itself and part of that reformation is being distinctively and unashamedly Reformed and unwilling to compromise those distinctives merely to "appear" acceptable to the local Arminian churches and/or visitors.  It is not the minister's place to keep the people ignorant but to instruct them.  Catechesis and expository preaching are essential to a healthy and growing church both in the spiritual and in the numerical side of growth.  I would hope that more people would be brought to understand the doctrines of grace.  Bringing more Arminians to attend a church so it can be just another church that stands for nothing does not further the gospel or the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace accomplishes little more than leavening a Reformed church with semi-pelagian mermbers who will inevitably undermine the Reformed faith and the Protestant Reformation.  It has been my observation that churches which grow are churches that boldly preach the law and gospel in proper balance and perspective, not churches which warble on the fundamentals of the Reformed faith.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Charlie

May the peace of the Lord be with you!





--
Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

21 comments:

Charlie J. Ray said...

I should add that Jim McConnell used rite 3 from the 1979 revised alternative services for communion, one I've never read before. It was terrible. Hated it.

Charlie J. Ray said...

See also Faith Presbyterian Church

Charlie J. Ray said...

I forgot to mention that Faith Presbyterian Church uses the NIV, which is clearly a worse translation than the ESV. Most Reformed churches these days use the ESV.

Jerry said...

all good points. thanks for taking the time to write this.

Charlie J. Ray said...

You're welcome, Jerry. You might want to check out the following update on Faith Presbyterian Church: Update: How Far Has the Presbyterian Church in American Fallen?

TAR said...

I belong to a PCA where the pastor thinks Catholics may be saved, that thinks Bill Hybel and Rick warren are fine.. that has non reformed and questionable doctrinal books in the library ..prefers topical googled sermons.. and has a church full of Arminians he does not want to offend.. so rarely gives any reformed doctrinal points in any sermon..

I am miserable.. but there is no "reformed" options for me..

The PCA is on the road to PCUSA IMHO

Charlie J. Ray said...

I feel for you, TAR. I can't find a truly reformed church here either.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Yes, the PCA is headed down the same road as the PCUSA. It's just a matter of time. If you visit the websites of the majority of their churches you won't find any reference or link to the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

TAR said...

I pointed out that our church website had no mention of OUR doctrinal position on it... it was added for a short time then removed ..we would not want to discourage the goats ya know

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your comments, TAR. I should point out that technically speaking Arminians do not believe in justification by faith alone since they believe faith is something they do in and of themselves. In short, faith is a work that partially depraved sinners do to save themselves. Arminianism is as bad as Roman Catholicism since in the end it is the sinner who must work up faith from within and work up the strength from with himself to persevere to the end with the help of a grace that guarantees absolutely nothing. It is a powerless grace that is ineffectually without the help of the sinner with a bent toward sinning. Unfortunately that bent toward sinning seems to predominate even Wesleyan Arminians despite their strong denials.

aaytch said...

It may be true that the PCA has made mistakes, and even that it is on a "bad road" in the same direction as PCUSA. However, it is not true of all PCA churches. I agree with most of this article, but its title is unfortunate. Since your observations were particular rather than general, your title should have been chosen so as to not smear the whole with the sins of the few.

aaytch said...

I like especially your comments about the legacy of Hodge and his departure from Westminster standards. This is something that few are willing to talk about.

Charlie J. Ray said...

I'm not sure how many presbyteries in the PCA are still solidly Reformed, Hudson. It could be a majority but judging from the books published by the theologians of Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, the downward slide is in progress. I think the minority view is Reformed and the vast majority of the PCA is now more "broad church" than distinctly Reformed. I could be wrong. At least that's my impression here in Florida. Even the ARP in Bartow is more Reformed in their liturgy and at least makes an appearance of following the regulative principle of worship.

Peace,

Charlie

aaytch said...

It is true that the ARP and a few others are more "Reformed" than the PCA. Also, while the PCA is headed in the wrong direction, I think it's fair to say that ARP is headed in the right direction. Above all, it is not difficult to imagine that the PCA will either reverse its fall or restructure itself so that those who are falling can fall by themselves. It is wrong I think to paint with such a broad brush.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Charles Hodge definitely compromised. I think anyone joining a Reformed congregation should be baptized again if they were baptized improperly the first time. In general Evangelical baptism could be acceptable but not a Roman Catholic baptism or Eastern Orthdox baptism.

aaytch said...

Well I think it is a mistake for a Church to be directly involved in education. The ARP owns Erskine college and seminary and is strongly considering relinquishing it. Almost none of its new ministers are coming from Erskine. I think the same principle applies to Covenant college/seminary and even Westminster seminary. Running institutions like these are distractions from the calling of a church... to evangelize, baptize, catechize and commune inside the church itself.

aaytch said...

You really think former RCs and EOs should be rebaptized? Does that mean you think there is magic (or a lack of magic) in their words, water and priestly hands which supersede or compromise faith and the work of God? While you're there, do you really think that there is magic in "sacramental wine?" Is this not Judaizing just a bit?

Charlie J. Ray said...

Since both Rome and the East are apostate, it would stand to reason that their sacerdotalism makes their baptism invalid. They are the ones advocating magic, not the Reformed. As for wine, if Scripture institutes wine as the representative element for Christ's blood then we ought to follow Scripture. Does Scripture call for the use of grape Kool Aide? Why wouldn't Kool Aide work just as well as Welch's grape juice?

Charlie J. Ray said...

My point about Hodge was that Hodge went against his denomination because he was already going in the common grace/liberal direction while the Presbyterian Church said that RC baptism was invalid because it was a false church.

Charlie J. Ray said...

The point is that having a denominational college and/or seminary is supposed to guarantee a conservative and educated clergy. Would you rather they went to liberal seminaries? The problem isn't having a seminary or college. The problem is the temptation to be accepted and successful leads to compromise and liberalism. If more denominations and their seminaries were concerned about doctrinal purity rather than success we would see less heresy.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Painting with a broad brush cuts both ways. Besides, it's much easier to point to the fact that the PCA has exonerated several known Federal Visionists lately as a particular evidence that the PCA is headed the wrong way. The ARP is a mixed bag, too. It has its liberal wing which has not gone away despite the recent crackdown on liberalism. I am skeptical although I have to admit that the conservative crackdown at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky did work. The liberal professors were all let go and Albert Mohler took the lead as president of the seminary.

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