The Great Punt — Analysis of the 2022 Meeting of General Synod
The Great Punt
If it were not for seeing old friends again and meeting new ones, the meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church this summer would have been a total waste of time. As a friend said, "We're doing it again. In good ARP style, we're kicking the can down the road again. This Synod is nothing but a big punt." Well, he nailed the essence of General Synod on the head. So, my title for this analysis of General Synod: THE GREAT PUNT.
For you who can remember, Charlie Brown had his Great Pumpkin. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has ANGUS, THE GREAT PUNTER.
I like this cartoon of Angus. Being visionally impaired (and not offended by "blind" jokes), I didn't miss the artist's humor: Angus is cross-eyed. He doesn't have the slightest idea as to the direction in which he is kicking the ball. That's about right for a meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church!
The New Moderator
The Moderator-elect of General Synod is the Reverend Rob Patrick, the Pastor of the Boyce Memorial Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Kings Mountain, NC. Having been Vice Moderator twice, he is prepared as much as one can be for the hazardous duty of moderating a contentious meeting of General Synod. And, yes, the meeting of General Synod next summer portends to be a contentious meeting. That is, unless the powers that be can figure a way to put off the study on deacons again and again and again and . . .
The Study on Deacons
The study on deacons was brought forth a year ago at the last Covid meeting of General Synod at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. A memorial from First Presbytery which would have defined the office of deacon to men only was politically maneuvered to a study committee. The memorial from First Presbytery was well prepared and compelling. The debate was passionate. As I remember, no one challenged the Biblical exegesis of the paper; rather, the political ramifications were front and center. If the memorial had come to the floor for a vote, some say it would have passed, and others say it would have failed. I don't know. It was too close to call. It was fascinating to watch.
If the study on deacons finally comes to a vote at the 2023 meeting of General Synod, I hope I'm still alive to see it. If I am, I'm going to set up a concession stand and sell cokes, popcorn, cotton candy, and peanuts. It will be more fun to watch than the summer Gene Horton, Buddy Worley, Teddy Larson, and I took Teddy's cat down to Elmer Taylor's minnow pond to find out if a cat can swim. It was 1956, we were ten, and we were told cats couldn't swim by my Uncle Ran, but we were not sure. We tried hard that day to drown Teddy's cat, but the cat wouldn't cooperate. We found out cats are good swimmers. However, they don't like it. The cat bit Teddy twice. We gave up. We let the cat go. We took our BB-guns and shot at an empty sardine can until it sank. Sinking an empty sardine can was more fun than trying to drown a cat. An empty sardine can doesn't bite!
Will the Associate Reformed Presbyterian cat swim out of the YAB lake next summer? Will Angus punt the ball again? My prediction: whatever happens, no one will be happy. If Angus punts again, no one will be happy. If there's a vote, no one will be happy. I think there is a high probability we will lose congregations.
From the mouth of the Chairman of the Board of World Witness: "We are not sending missionaries to start Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregations, we are sending missionaries to further the Kingdom of God." Now, I may not have quoted him exactly, but I have it close.
I am 76 years old, I have lived long enough to be jeered for not advancing the cause, the name, and the institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and told I wasn't "a real ARP," and now I am jeered when I ask why the cause, the name, and the institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church are not advanced on the mission field, and told I am opposed to furthering the Kingdom of God.
As a young minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, I remember Chap Lauderdale saying and writing the following: "The Board of Bonclarken is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in camp and conference ministry, the Board of Christian Education is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in publishing Christian literature and teaching in the local church, the Board of Dunlap is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in ministry to orphans and other children's ministries, the Board of Erskine is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in college and seminary education, the Board of Outreach North America (Church Extension in those days) is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in planting and growing new congregations in the United States, the Board of Stewardship is how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church advances in promoting faithful giving to and the wise use of monies on the denominational level, and the Board of World Witness (Foreign Missions in those days) is how the ministry of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is advanced in the world." And, as far as the success of World Witness in those days is concerned, the proof is in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Mexico and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.
For the life of me, I don't see how winning people to Christ and planting local congregations which are Associate Reformed Presbyterian, establishing presbyteries, and a national denominational presence (as we did in Mexico and Pakistan) is opposed to the Kingdom of God.
In the United States would we think of giving money and people resources to plant a congregation for the Presbyterian Church in America, or the Christian Reformed Church, or the United Reformed Churches in North America, or the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America? No! We would not do that! Well, maybe I should say I don't think one of our presbyteries would do that.
Sadly, there is no way to avoid the Statistical Report. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in North American is dying. The great majority of our local congregations are dying, declining, or plateaued. In Second Presbytery, churches are closed faster than they are planted. We have a dismal record in planting churches. However, instead of pouring our money, effort, and time in securing a healthy Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, we send 18.59% of our Denominational Ministry Fund to World Witness and raise a total budget of $4,750,180 for World Witness. And what is done? Well, the cause, the name, and the institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church are not advanced. The Reformed Church of XXXX is supported. The Church of XXXX is supported. The Baptist Church of XXXX is supported.
The fig leaf of supporting the Kingdom of God over a denominational standard is nonsense. World Witness is supporting denominational standards everyday. The problem is World Witness is not supporting the denominational standard of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Isn't it interesting that a man who was once ridiculed for not being "a real ARP" is now the voice for being an Associate Reformed Presbyterian loyalist? This one thing I learned as a church planter: you can't plant a generic church; you have to plant a standard! When one looks at the Kingdom of God as the church as it is spread over the world, there is a multitude of standards. As we look for the standard of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on the mission field today, it is not being planted! It is absent!
Erskine College and Seminary
Of course, I'm sure the reader is wondering, "What is Chuck going to say about the Erskine report?"
Well, not much. I wish President Adamson and Chairman Whitehurst well in an impossible task. I think the spiritual condition of the campus is well stated in the following Facebook talk by "Josh Childs, Campus Chaplin" (sic): https://www.facebook.com/ErskineCollege/videos/josh- chiles-campus-chaplin/4743991395641573/
What do you think? Where is the Gospel? This is WOKE! This is anti-Gospel!
A Letter to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
We sent a letter to denominational officials of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church informing them we are not pleased with the theological direction they are going. We did this years ago with the Presbyterian Church (USA). They responded saying, "Who are you? Mind your own business." I expect to see another such letter.
The image is from deep space. It is what some call a hole in the universe. The hole is a billion light years across. In the hole there is nothing: no stars, no light, no galaxies, no plasma, no dark holes, nothing. Astronomers do not know what to make of this hole. It's a mystery.
Well, the rest of the meeting of General Synod was an empty hole for me. We spent our time shuffling papers, listening to long sermons, and hearing uninteresting and boring presentations. As one elder delegate said to me, "I have now attended two meetings of General Synod: my first and last." He is a very successful businessman. He also said, "You people are not serious people." I can't argue with him.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
Don’t you find it a bit ironic that the Erskine Seceders “one-word” for the year is unity?
Thank you for the comment.
“Ironic.” “Unity.” Yes!
I agree totally with your feelings in the article.. the ARP congregation my wife and I attended for almost 40 years, we have recently stopped going, They speak of UNITY, but what they really want and mean is UNIFORMITY. Almost cult like
Dear Mr. Jay Smith,
Thank you for your comments.
Many people confuse “unity” and “uniformity.”
Dear Mr Wilson,
I always read your reports of Synod with interest. Thank you for your persistence.
I am intrigued to know what you think ARP world mission should look like. I am a member of a congregation in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. We currently have two church planters from World Witness working with the denomination. They are superb men planting presbyterian congregations. Exactly what mission to advance the Kingdom of God should be.
What distinctives would you require if they were planting ARP churches? (Unless I have misunderstood you and these gentlemen are already doing exactly what you like to see!) I can’t see any benefit adding another micro-presbyterian denomination to the English scene.
Yours in Christ,
Dear James Horgan,
Thank you for your comment and question. I was not aware ARPTalk had readers in the UK. Wow!
Your question is a great question.
(1) You ask: “I am intrigued to know what you think ARP world mission should look like.” The answer is not difficult. The Associate Reforged Presbyterian Church of Mexico (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associate_Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_Mexico), with 30,000 members, which is nearly the size of the of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the US and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pakistan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associate_Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_in_Pakistan), with 110,000 members, which is nearly three times larger than the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the US. And both are national denominations.
(2) I don’t doubt the two church planters from World Witness are “superb men.” However, that’s not the point. How are they advancing the cause, mission, and standard of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Who supports their livelihood in order for them to be in the UK? As we give money to support missionaries, most Associate Reformed Presbyterians in the US think they are supporting the cause, mission, and standard of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, not the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. It is only recently I have come to understand that our World Witness Board is not willing to advance the standard of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on the mission field.
(3) Did representatives from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (with congregations in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden) come to our General Synod asking for aid? I don’t remember such a thing taking place. And, for the record, if it had taken place, I think I would have voted yes.
(4) You ask what is the value of another micro-presbyterian denomination. Well, both Mexico and Pakistan started small. They have grown in spite of most severe conditions. Do I need to remind you that there is somewhere in the Bible we are told not the despise of the day of small things?
(5) Now, let me ask you a question. Where in the history of Christianity has the church advanced apart from an identifying standard? Sadly, I have found that those who speak of “the kingdom of God” and “the church” in generic terms are those who speak and do little. I hope my experience is not the rule. I fear it is.
(6) With all due respect, thank you for your comments, but you have misunderstood what I have written.
Best wishes and warmest regards,
Dear Mr Wilson,
thank you for clarifying your position.
I believe EPCEW and ARP are in the process of establishing sister church relations.
I still remain confused about what would make an ARP church in England distinct from EPCEW in anything it believed or did. Any clarification would be welcomed.
If the task of world mission is to plant confessional reformed and presbyterian churches, then the dollars going into World Witness are being well spent in England.
Yours in Christ,
Dear James Horgan,
Thank you for your conversation.
(1) As far as I know, there is no discussion in our General Synod regarding establishing a “sister church” relationship with the EPCES.
(2) With regard to your confusion regarding my position, let me ask you a question. What brand of congregations is the EPCEW attempting to plant in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden? Your answer to the question should make my point.
1. the information I saw on fraternal relations was slightly garbled, but it had not reached the stage of a formal approach to synod. Regardless we value our links with the ARP and esteem you highly.
2. EPCEW is planting confessional presbyterian churches. In neither German nor Sweden is there a native language confessional presbyterian denomination. In Switzerland there is a very small denomination that is joint with Austria and has one congregation there. I expect the planter there simply felt he had stronger connections and would receive more support, pastoral and otherwise, at this stage with EPCEW. If EPCEW was sending missionaries to a country with a functioning confessional presbyterian denomination I expect they would normally work as part of that.
2b. I have just noticed the Austrian denomination now has one German congregation. That post-dates the EPCEW Berlin plant.
3. I am confused by your use of the term ‘brand’. I might be given cans of Tango and Fanta. Two brands. But as far as I am concerned, indistinguishable orangeade inside. Is that how you are using the term? A church plant by EPCEW in Europe might say EPCEW on the tin but it is simply a confessional presbyterian church. The brand is not the focus and we are not seeking to build the brand but the product. If there is something different about the ARP product I would be interested to know what it is.
Yours in Christ,
Dear James Horgan,
Thank you for your comments.
As Mr. Shaw is reported to have said, “Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language.”
Therefore, “confessional” equals “generic”; “brand” equals “specific.”
As an Associate Reformed Presbyterian, I’m not interested in using our limited people and money resources to plant congregations for other denominations. If we would not think of doing such a thing in the US, why would be doing it elsewhere?
As I said in my previous response, how you responded to my to my comments would prove my point. And so it has!
I think we have exhausted this conversation; however, I will give you the last word if you wish to respond. I have enjoyed our chat.
By the way, have a happy Fourth of July celebrations! (-: