EDMOND — These times are cataclysmic for mainline religious denominations. We Presbyterians are no exception, as members of local churches wrestle with unbiblical decisions and trajectories embraced by our national leadership.
In the coming days, you may hear that First Presbyterian Church in Edmond is seeking to be dismissed from its present denomination (the Presbyterian Church USA) into another Presbyterian body, but the reasons you hear may not be accurate. Our desire is that all those interested may know the facts behind our decision, rather than the slants which others may concoct to forward their own agendas.
For more than four decades, the PC(USA) has been drifting slowly from its original theological convictions founded in the Bible and expressed through creeds and confessions of the Reformation. In recent years, this drift has accelerated exponentially, to the point where core doctrines of biblical faith and central practices of Christian lifestyle are no longer deemed essential or even true.
On the matter of Truth, every individual or group (religious or secular, theist or atheist) must decide what to turn to as ultimate authority. For orthodox Christians, our ultimate authority has always been the Bible, which we embrace as the written Word of God. When Christian groups lose their conviction concerning the Bible’s authority, other views vie for its place. Those alternate views may be formed by the standards of one’s culture, by one’s personal preferences, by prevailing epistemological philosophies, or by the fads of the day, but in the end everyone relies on someone or something beyond their own experience to help them interpret reality.
For us in the PC(USA), the authoritative standard of the Bible for our faith and life has been stripped of its ultimate role as arbiter of our discussions and decisions. In recent years our denomination has agonized over whether or not to embrace truths which for orthodox Christians of all former centuries were settled matters of faith. Leaders have been ordained who are unwilling to openly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, or to recognize his claim as Lord over all.
In the name of inclusiveness, the exclusive claims of the gospel that salvation is available only in and through Jesus Christ have been jettisoned. Indeed, salvation as a concept has disintegrated from its original meaning of “rescue from eternal ruin caused by sin and evil” to a new call to make the world a more just and inclusive place for all. While this vision is not a bad thing, it is not the reason Christ died on the cross.
With this change in focus, the PC(USA) has lost its passion for evangelism — for sharing with the world the good news of God’s saving love, and for calling all people to yield their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We have lost our first love as a denomination.
For more than seven years, the leaders of our congregation have worked diligently locally and nationally in efforts to realign our denomination with our biblical and theological roots. Now, however, as the move away from Truth accelerates, we can no longer in good conscience remain bound to a denomination we feel has jettisoned the core of why we were called into existence in the first place.
One of the salient issues illustrating this growing betrayal of biblical authority has involved the question of qualifications for ordained leadership within the PC(USA). For the past 35 years, our leadership has wrestled repeatedly with the question of whether active homosexuals (and those involved in other lifestyles censured by the Scriptures) may be ordained as ministers, elders or deacons. Until 2010, every time this question was addressed by our national assembly, the answer was no, based upon a common biblical understanding.
In 2010, the answer became yes, and that decision became church law after ratification in July 2011. For many evangelicals in the PC(USA) this bellwether decision constituted an unacceptable crossing of the theological Rubicon, with our denomination thumbing its nose at clear teachings in Scripture that are not ethically in vogue at present. Our primary issue is not the normalization of homosexual practice (though the gospel message calls all human beings to repentance in all areas contrary to the will and purpose of God).
Our objection goes much deeper — when a group, whose central beliefs spring from God’s revelation as found in the Bible, no longer submits to that overarching authority but arrogates for itself the right to determine truth and goodness, it loses its original identity and purpose. Such has happened in the PC(USA).
As a result, we have felt compelled to declare that we can no longer move in concord with our denomination as it leaves its biblical moorings. We are committed to standing on the truth of God’s written Word, and with the orthodox of the Christian faith around the world and down through history. We are deeply saddened about the breach this entails with the denomination in which many of us were nurtured, but we will not be drawn away from Christ in order to remain with a drifting institution.
In the coming months you may hear that the members of First Presbyterian Edmond are bigoted, hate-filled, homophobic fundamentalists because we have taken this step. Those who know us will know better. By no means are we perfect, but these charges are completely unfounded.
We invite all sinners who don’t yet know God’s forgiveness to join us sinners who meet every Sunday on the corner of 10th and Rankin. The love of Christ has led us to many ministries of service and grace for the people of Edmond. We trust He will continue to shape us as instruments of His mercy and love to this city we love.
We ask you not to let any false witness color your thoughts as you read about this matter in the coming days. If you have any questions or concerns, come and meet us for yourselves. We will be glad to listen to you, and to share our hearts in turn, so that Jesus Christ and His gospel may be glorified in all ways.
MATEEN ELASS is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Edmond.