Going Down — Part #2a

Going Down Part One Chuck Wilson ARPTalk ARP Talk

ARPTalk (166): Going Down, Part 2a continues ARPTalk (164) — that is, reasons why the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPChurch) is a stone’s throw from death. And, if not dead, it is now a micro-denomination of about 25 healthy congregations.

For 50 years, I (and others) dreamed a dream of the ARPChurch as a significant and influential denomination in the world of Reformed and Evangelical Presbyterianism. Like the movie, that dream is gone with the wind, and I am sad! — and I hope I’m wrong!!

The next point is an analysis of the present leadership.

LEADERSHIP INDICATORS: Going Down!

In 2009, Nathan Frazier wrote the following about Erskine, saying, “Erskine is like a diseased person” (“A Call to Action,” p. 1) (https://arptalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Frazier-Nate-A-Call-to-Action.pdf). The same can be said of the ARPChurch. Doubtlessly, the leadership of the ARPChurch is diseased. And, if the head is diseased, the body is doomed.

In 1976, Ted Engstrom wrote the following about leadership in the church. He wrote that the church needs leaders

. . . who cannot be bought; whose word is their bond; who put character above wealth; who possess opinions and will; who are larger than their vocations; who do not hesitate to take chances; who will not lose their individuality in a crowd; who will be as honest in small things as in great things; who will make no compromise with wrong; whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires; who are true to their friends . . . who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for truth when it is unpopular . . . and who say ‘no’ with emphasis, although all the rest of the world says ‘yes.” (Ted Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader: Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1976, 120)

If denominational leadership is an indicator of denominational integrity and future, expect a wintery future! On the basis of what I have seen and experienced (and I was an insider), the present leadership in the ARPChurch is moribund and so self-absorbed as to be unable to see past ecclesiastical ambition and prestige. The ARPChurch is led by those who have overseen congregational decline/plateau, who manage nepotism, who hold political savvy as being two-faced, who gossip and whose word can’t be trusted, and who have a twisted sense of dignity which is used to stifle dissent.

Most people think the moderator of General Synod is the Pope of the ARPChurch. In reality, the moderator has little ecclesiastical power. The moderator serves one year, and his role is moderating the meeting of General Synod and the meetings of the Executive Board for the year he is moderator. After that, he is just another face in the crowd.

If there is a Pope in the ARPChurch, the Pope is the Principle Clerk of General Synod (Clerk); that is, if he desires and seizes the role. However, in the 51 years I was connected with the ARPChurch, no one had the chutzpah — UNTIL NOW. In the past, Clerk was an avocation, a side-hustle; not a job. Tragically, Kyle Sims seems to think Clerk means he has been appointed Pope.

Who is Pope Kyle?

Having a lackluster ministerial career, but living in a haze of self-infatuation since his election to Clerk, the new Clerk of the ARPChurch presents himself as a Pope-like figure. In the last meetings of Synod, he has spoken ex cathedra, constantly interrupting the Moderator and the flow of the proceedings, to the point I heard delegates quietly muttering: “Kyle, sit down, be quiet, and do your job as Clerk!” (and, NO, I was not one of the delegates). Amazingly, as one who identifies himself as a Protestant, a Calvinist, and a non-Roman Catholic, he exercises the authority to cast people out of the church. Is that not Pope- like?

Where did the ARP Pope come from?

First of all, as pastor of the yoked parish of Hickory Grove/ Smyrna, not much happened there. Standing nearly seven feet tall, he once bragged on the floor of Synod he was the tallest and largest ARP on earth. Preaching at the Smyrna congregation shortly after Sims departed for Lancaster, a teenager commented to me, “I liked your sermon! You don’t look like a giant stork in the pulpit.” Teenagers can be brutal!

According to the 2005 Minutes of Synod, when Pope Kyle arrived in Lancaster as pastor of the First Lancaster church in 2005/6, the congregation reported 259 members. As he leaves, he leaves the congregation with 120 members and an attendance under 70 in the sanctuary and 6 in the nursery (as reported in a recent bulletin I have). In 2004, I supplied the pulpit of the Lancaster congregation on three occasions. When I preached, there was a full choir and a nearly full sanctuary. What has happened to the congregation? As noted above, the congregation is down to 120 members and an attendance under 80. As Pope Kyle leaves Lancaster, he’s not leaving, rather he’s ESCAPING FROM A COLLAPSING CHURCH. The only thing to say for the ARPChurch is this: if this is leadership, don’t expect much. Well, as sad as it sounds, if you can’t grow a church, try leading a denomination.

Sims once told me he is the most politically astute man in the ARPChurch. On a Banner of Truth road-trip to Messiah College in Pennsylvania in 2008, I spent a week with him recounting his political exploits when he worked as a political intern during his college days. I was left asking: why didn’t he go into law and become a Republican politician? 

In awe, I watched Pope Kyle  work  the  corridors  of  Erskine. He is now the new Director of Seminary Admissions and Church Relations. His wife is a member of the Erskine Board, and a daughter is an  Erskine College  employee. Can someone  spell the word “nepotism?”

However, to be fair, I guess Pope Kyle is about the best the ARPChurch has to offer.  Regrettably,  the  ARPChurch  is  lacking in capable leaders who are willing to serve. I think the parable of judgment in Judges 9 fits the ARPChurch and the rise of Pope Kyle.

“The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree  said  to  them,  ‘Shall  I  leave  my  abundance,  by  which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come  and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You  come  and  reign over us.’ But the vine said to them,  ‘Shall  I  leave  my  wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

I am not a prophet or a seer, nor the son of a prophet or a seer, but the muse of prediction is upon me. I predict the reign of Pope Kyle to be “fire” on the ARPChurch — a fire of judgment. Well, maybe not! Maybe this is just a story about a fool told by a fool who knows too much about the religious chameleon-like characters inhabiting the ecclesiastical environs of the ARPChurch, for I lived too long in that parched land.

Pope Sims’ legacy: he has the power to cast people into hell.

These are my thoughts,

 

Charles W. Wilson

3 Comments

  1. Howard James Carlson on June 2, 2023 at 9:15 pm

    Woe to our churches. In this day of confusion, the world and church looks for the clear, thundering voice of leadership, But alas, there is none.

  2. David. Sweatt on June 2, 2023 at 11:44 pm

    What causes this weakness of character in the leadership of the ARP?

    • Charles Wilson on June 2, 2023 at 11:53 pm

      David,

      The answer you’re looking for is SIN — lust for power.

      Chuck

Leave a Comment