Mainline Escapades: Union Seminary VA Hosts the You-Know-What Monologues

WARNING: this is graphic. If you click on this link you are responsible for what you see. This is not an inducement to click on the link (HT: Classical Presbsyterian). For those who don’t click the nub is that a an old and respected mainline Presbyterian seminary in VA is hosting a traveling show that features a female reproductive organ. I realize that this is the sort of stuff that seems to upset folk the most. There are other, even more important reasons, however, to be concerned about the Presbyterian mainline.

Rather than looking at the symptoms of decline in the mainline (promotion of homosexual marriage or this stage production) we should be asking: what sort of approach to Scripture and confession produces such ethics? What sort of approach to the faith causes folk to make a seminary into a center for social activism?

As loyal readers will remind us, if we ask these questions, we might do well to look in the mirror. Our seminaries and congregations might not host these exact events but they might host cultural events on the social and political right.

We should also ask those who are upset with the state of the Presbyterian mainline (the PCUSA) why are you still there? Do you realize that there is a struggling, fledgling Reformed and Presbyterian sideline who could use your energy and commitment to orthodoxy. There are presbyteries and classes where you can be Reformed without being ashamed.  We have our issues, but you won’t have to pretend to be what you aren’t. You can come out of the closet, as it were, as the Calvin-loving Presbyterian you are.

You can find out a little about the sideline at NAPARC. Why not find a NAPARC congregation near you and check it out? If you want to find out more about the Presbyterian mainline, borderline, and sideline in the USA click on the link above for Recovering the Reformed Confession.

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  1. I honestly wonder how many of the world even would be embarrassed by any associations with this.
    I wonder if any parallels could be drawn to the existence of MRSA (I think that’s what it’s called) existing within the confines of a hospital and the most flagrant sins in the world coming out of the confines of ecclesiastical bodies.

  2. There is such a thing called MRSA; it’s an antibiotic resistant bacteria. Be careful if you go to a gym, it may be there as well.

  3. Each of your appeals to attend a NAPARC church reminds me of my difficulty finding any nearby churches. I’d love to see a compilation map of all the individual NAPARC churches. Such a resource would be handy to those that hadn’t put in the effort to look at each of the denomination sites. I know that when I was looking for a NAPARC church four years ago, I had to go through a list of three different states on each denominational site because I live on the border in Iowa, near Illinois and Missouri. Then I had to determine the various distances to each particular church. It was a very frustrating situation. I see that some denominations have since put up maps, and I’m thankful for that. Perhaps I’ll post on the PB to see if a computer savvy person could do this.

  4. Thanks, Alberto.
    The MRSA parallel being in reference to the fact that in the hospital which is supposed to be a place of healing and sterility is also a place where sickness superbreeds bacteria. Hence hospital staff not wanting babies to play on the floor in their hospitals, etc.
    Also like not taking the full amount of anti-biotic at the perscribed time can superbreed bacteria too. Vaccines logic can work against the would be healer too.

  5. Why we’re still a part of the PCUSA? Because this is our home, it’s where Christ has put us, and we find it unthinkable to turn over the resources of our great tradition to the liberal/progressives. There’s still much faithfulness in our denomination, and many evangelicals have concluded God wants us to work for reform here.

    Orthodox believers I know within the PCUSA are open to working with those you mention, as well as Christians of other traditions, “who could use [our] energy and commitment to orthodoxy.” I am certainly not ashamed to show my true colors, not even in a very liberal setting like the Presbytery of the Western Reserve in the Cleveland metro area. Furthermore, we have countless vibrant, faithful churches, and entire presbyteries that are fighting for the conservative cause: surely you’re aware, for example, of the Essential Tenets of San Diego and Santa Barbara Presbyteries, which provide a basis for refusing the credentials of pastors who fail to adhere to biblical and confessional standards.

    Rev. Dr. Randal Working
    Christ Presbyterian Church
    Chesterland, OH

  6. Hi Randal,

    I appreciate this post. For a bit of background, I investigated entering a Chicago Presbytery (PCUSA) when I was at Wheaton. I was told by a colleague, a member of the Presbytery, that unless I could affirm the Confession of ’67 (and a Barthian view of Scripture) and the ordination of females that I was not eligible for ministry in the PCUSA. I’ve been told by PCUSA ministers that even the most conservative presbyteries (e.g. San Diego) would not receive our graduates because they hold the Westminster Confession.

    As a historian I look at what has taken place since 1929 and the pledge of conservatives to “stay and fight” over all that time. I know there have been memorials and protests but is it really possible to “fight” for real, unadulterated, historic, (Westminster Standards) confessional Reformed Christianity in the PCUSA or just conservative versions of the dominant views in the PCUSA?

    Are the “Essential Tenets” really a good standard for what counts as “Reformed”? Why those and not the Westminster Standards?

  7. Hi Scott,

    The faith of American Presbyterians was defined by the Westminster Standards from the first presbytery in Philadelphia in 1706 to the formulation of the Book of Confessions in 1967. I know some would say that introducing 11 separate statements of faith and ecumenical creeds opened the door to confusion and compromise. Many legitimately Reformed groups would look to other standards than the Westminster, however, from the Canons of Dort to the Heidelberg Catechism. Doesn’t that make sense given the international character of the Reformed movement?

    I suppose the broader the collection of material, the greater the likelihood of granting some freedom of conscience in regard to it. I wonder whether that would be permissible or inevitable in your mind. For instance, say someone objected to the Westminster’s understanding, following 1 Corinthians 14:14, that prayer in worship, “if vocal, [must be] in a known tongue.” (WCF XXI.3) Is that particular point essential, in your view, for ordination as a minister of Word and Sacrament or for admission into church membership? Unless you hold to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the historic confessions of the church, it seems to me reasonable to develop some form of essential tenets.

    As for presbyteries not receiving your graduates because they hold to the Westminster Confession, that would be outlandish, especially for a conservative presbytery. I won’t claim outlandish things aren’t done in any of the Christian churches, but even if a liberal presbytery tried it, they could only do it by subterfuge: for instance, they would not likely deny outright a point of doctrine like the substitutionary atonement, but rather by call an examinee “uncompassionate” or “judgmental” or “exclusive.” They couldn’t simply bar a candidate from membership by pointing to his or her loyalty to our historic standards. I think you could find minister colleagues who would tell you nearly anything, but what’s pertinent is what the Committee on Ministry affirms in explicit written policy.



    Rev. Dr. Randal Working
    Christ Presbyterian Church
    Chesterland, OH

  8. Rev Working,

    1.I don’t have a problem with the large B of C but I do have major problems with the Conf of ’67 which is Barthian. See Recovering the Reformed Confession on this. See also Skilton, ed. Scripture and Confession, a resp. to the Conf of ’67.

    2. Of course few Presbyteries are likely to say in public (though they might), “Look here, we just don’t believe the WCF any more — although the preface to the Conf of ’67 makes that pretty clear. Again, see RRC on this.

    3. The PCUSA hasn’t been recognizably confessional for a very long time. The horse is out of the barn and has been since ’29. I’m puzzled by the implicit claim in your post that I’m being too hard on the PCUSA. Must I detail the many blatant ways in which the PCUSA has rejected just about every vestige of historic Reformed Christianity?

  9. ”Must I detail the many blatant ways in which the PCUSA has rejected just about every vestige of historic Reformed Christianity?”

    Please do.

  10. Scott,
    I don’t find C-67 to be our strongest confession, but my reason for that isn’t because it’s Barthian. For me this is the subject of another discussion, however.

    “Must I detail the many blatant ways in which the PCUSA has rejected just about every vestige of Reformed Christianity?” Well! Obviously, I don’t believe we’ve yet arrived at quite that degree of apostasy; I merely wanted to question your call for me and my like-minded colleagues to desert the church that formed us in the Reformed and evangelical faith. I don’t call for you to leave your church. Rather, I pray you can be faithful to your calling to speak the truth—in love–where God has placed you.


  11. Dr. Clark, I agree with you that the PCUSA is in dire straits and has been for a long time…probably since the days of my hero J. Gresham Machen. The denomination as a whole is a lost cause. If anyone doubts that just take a look at the most recent General Assembly and abominations like the one you describe here. But agreeing with Rev. Working — I know there are still congregations and presbyteries that have remained faithful to orthodox Christianity, and in some cases are more confessionally Reformed than your average PCA church. I’m an elder and member of one such congregation. I never thought I’d join a PCUSA church, but when the PCA church plant my wife and I were involved with went belly up we didn’t see the point in driving 45 minutes to a PCA church that’s virtually indistinguishable from a Willow Creek when we have a Biblically faithful, Reformed congregation a few miles from where we live and work. For now I believe this is where God wants us and where I can do the most good. I’ve even recommended RRC to some of my colleagues, and I can tell you that our congregation would be more likely to call someone from Westminster or RTS than a graduate of one of the mainline seminaries.

  12. Hi Stephen,

    I agree that there certainly are PCUSA congregations that are more confessional than some (I wouldn’t go so far as to say the “average”) PCA congregations. If there were no problems with the NAPARC churches I wouldn’t have written RRC. The question is where should those confessional PCUSAs be? Should they remain with an obviously sinking ship or should they disembark and strengthen the NAPARC churches?

    Isn’t it true that that one of the main reasons congregations now remain with the mainline is the the PCUSA has determined to keep properties? People have invested in buildings, bodies, and budgets and they can’t walk away or they don’t want to walk away from that investment? Well, the folks in 1929 did. They had invested a great deal in the three B’s and they walked away to obscurity.

    There’s a certain amount of social prestige in attending a tall-steeple PCUSA. There aren’t many tall-steeple NAPARC churches. We can’t count them on two hands (!0th in Phila, 1st in Jackson and I guess there are others but they don’t come to mind).

    You say that you believe that God wants you in that congregation. Okay but does he want that congregation in the PCUSA?

    Rev Working,

    You seem to assume that you can pick and choose among the confessions. The Book of Cs makes it pretty clear that the Conf of ’67 is binding and superior to all others. How does that work? If the B of Cs is clear about the order of the confessions and if the WCF is really a museum piece (and perhaps the C of ’67 is now a museum piece too?) then can one really pick and choose?

    I understand that there’s been an influx of “evangelicals” into the mainline and, were it the case that people were teaching the theology, piety, and practice of the Westminster Standards without equivocation and were it the case that Machen lived, as it were, in the PCUSA and that congregations were filing charges against sem profs and the like, and facing the ecclesiastical consequences, that would be one thing. That isn’t really happening is it?

    Does the PCUSA have the marks of a true church? If not, then it’s a mission field.

    Do any of those ostensible confessionalists who remain in the PCUSA really treat it as a mission field?

    Do the evangelicals and confessionalists who remain in the PCUSA know the history of the Machen case?

  13. Dr. Working,

    Your scenario of ousting orthodox, congregationally approved and presbytery-affirmed candidates by calling them “unloving” or whatever is PRECISELY the case for me. And this was in a “conservative” presbytery.

    My unloving act was to publicly point to their reception and installation of a minister who scorned (not simply denied) the physical resurrection, the inspiration (no specific plenary, verbal, etc) of scripture, and the personality of the Triune Godhead. (Well…that and to say that some notorious and scandalous cases of adultery by ordained clergymen be at least given a look.)

    There is little room for Gospel-driven love in the PCUSA. That’s why it takes over 10,000 PCUSA members to support a single missionary. (The same number of members in the PCA sponsors 18 full-time foreign missionaries, while in the EPC it sponsors 10.)

  14. Scott,
    Keeping property isn’t an appropriate reason, in itself, to stay in the denomination, but neither would it be faithful to walk away with no consideration at all for property. Now, can you show exactly how I assume one can pick and choose among the confessions? And the PCUSA has not determined that the latest confession trumps all earlier ones. “Museum piece” is your term, not mine. Incidentally, Westminster Seminary also has a kind of summary of confessions that begins to look rather like a list of essential tenets.

    I’m not sure I follow your syntax with the sentence about “an influx of ‘evangelicals’,” but filing charges against seminary professors and non-compliant churches is precisely what some of us are doing. I agree that that’s necessary when professors, transferring ministers, and candidates cannot affirm classical Reformed doctrine.

    Calvin’s notion of the visible and invisible church means that PCUSA as well as NAPARC churches are mission fields, of course. I remind you that even the church in first-century Corinth, for all its problems in doctrine and ethics, was nonetheless the church of Christ.

    Chris, I’m sorry for your experience in the PCUSA. It sounds painful, and I can imagine how it would cause you to think there’s little room for “Gospel-driven love” in our house.


  15. Randall,

    The faculty at WSC subscribe “ex animo” the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. We’ve published two testimonies to highlight certain issues of concern to our constituency but we’re bound by the Scriptures as confessed by the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches.

    In the background of my comments is the doctrine of Belgic Confession Art 29 where it distinguishes between true and false churches. There are three marks of a true church, the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of discipline.

    The most obvious place where the PCUSA falls is at the last mark, When was the last time a PCUSA minister was disciplined for contradicting any of the confessions contained in the Book of Confessions?

    If I understand your claim re the Book of Confessions and the superiority of the Confession of ’67 I would encourage you to re-read the preface to the B of C.

    I quote: “Therefore when there are differences between the confessions,
    initial priority should be given to contemporary confessions. This is only initial
    preference because further reflection may reveal that at some points the church inearlier times was more able and willing to be guided by the Spirit than the contemporary church.”

    As I wrote in RRC, “It would be good to know whether, since 1967, and in what particulars, the mainline Presbyterians have decided that the Westminster Assembly was correct and modern theology is wrong….According to the mainline Presbyterians, in principle, therefore, there can be no fixed definition of what is to be Reformed, but only a temporarily fixed address locating what most mainliners think the Spirit is saying at a given point.” See RRC for more.

  16. Randy,

    As to property, as part of a group who recently (’95) left the CRC as it continues to move to broad evangelicalism and thence to the mainline (merger with the RCA seems to be the goal) more than a few congregations had to walk away from buildings. Many OPCs did the same in the 20s. The same happened to some in the PCA, I guess, in ’73.

    Some of our congregations in the sideline (NAPARC) have to meet in poor circumstances. It’s embarrassing but it’s also a function of the theology of the cross. It’s probably more normal for confessional Reformed folk to be hiding from the authorities (I’m thinking of the life of Guy de Bres) in the hedgerows than meeting in places of cultural power and acceptance.

    Should people take thought for property? Perhaps but if it’s a choice between confessional and biblical fidelity and property, then the choice is clear.

    When I say “evangelical influx” I’m referring to the number of Fuller grads who’ve entered the ministry of the PCUSA. I think “evangelical” would be a fair adjective for some of the PTS grads who’ve entered the ministry of the PCUSA in recent years, wouldn’t it?

  17. Sure, I’m with you about the choice between property and confessional fidelity. Whether it’s more normal for Reformed believers to meet in hiding, well, over the span of nearly five centuries I’d guess not for most of the time, but certainly during certain times and places. The Church of the Desert in France lived “under the cross,” while the Reformed churches of Switzerland assumed varying degrees of civil power. Even today in the Canton of Vaud, the pastoral ordination service in the Cathedral of Lausanne opens with a procession by the city magistrates.

    When you say PTS, do you mean Princeton, not Pittsburgh? Evangelical might fairly describe some grads from both.

  18. I suspect it may be that the alliance between the confessionally Reformed and the cultural mainstream will prove to have been temporary.

    There were indications already in the 17th century that was the case. In the NL, the alliance didn’t last long at all. By the early 18c. things were going quite badly for the orthodox and didn’t change until the Afscheiding in 1834 when they were again under the cross.

    In France, of course, the Reformed (to the degree they even exist) have been under the cross almost continuously since the 16th century.

    However externally influential the Swiss Reformed might be the fact that Barth was regarded wrongly as “neo-orthodox” says something about the state of the Swiss German churches. The confessional are almost entirely absent from Geneva and Heidelberg. The confessional have been under the cross in Germany virtually since the end of the 30 Years War. Then there are the Hungarian Reformed Churches and other such where orthodoxy has had mixed fortunes since the Reformation.

    Now, when i say “under the cross” I don’t mean exactly what it meant in the 16th century, but I do mean marginalized.

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