Welcome to ARPTalk(168), Part 2c, an analysis of the ARPChurch which was begun with ARPTalk(164), Part 1.
We begin with this question: Why is the ARPChurch dying?
Consider the following. (1) There is a refusal to admit the ARPChurch is sick — VERY SICK. (2) There is a failure to take responsibility. (3) There is an unwillingness to change. (4) Critics are stifled. (5) Solutions are inward focused. (6) Entrepreneurial types are feared. (7) There is a desire to return to a bygone age which is held pristine. (8) The present leaders are expert in managing the status quo. (9) There is an unwillingness to focus on the nonnegotiable: the Great Commission.
MISSIONAL INDICATORS: Going Down!
I want the reader to be clear as to what I mean by missional. I mean that which contributes to the increase, the multiplication of congregations.
1) Outreach North America
As far as church planting is concerned, Outreach North America is ineffective. Certainly, there are a couple of bright spots of which I know; however, church planting is not something the ARPChurch does well.
The decline in congregations is far past alarming. A study was commissioned to study the combining of presbyteries. Presently, five presbyteries are no larger than 1500 members.
The ARPChurch’s approach to evangelism is to let the Baptists and nondenominationalists do the work of the Great Commission. Then, waiting for a convert to read a Reformed book or two, they proselytize the person in the name of Reformed theology. That’s not evangelism! As a matter of fact, according to Matthew 23.15, it is compassing sea and land to make a Reformed proselyte, and when he is made, he is as useless as the proselytizers.
I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Go!”
In a similar vein, there is waiting and hoping for congregations to become dissatisfied with the PCA (or another denomination) and withdraw to the ARPChurch. Leaders speak of a large number of disaffected PCA congregations wanting to transfer to the ARPChurch. Then the leaders of these disaffected congregations ask this question: “Why do I want to be in the ARPChurch?” Not finding an answer, they go elsewhere or create something new!
2) World Witness
Foreign missions in the name of the ARPChurch is not something World Witness does. World Witness is a parachurch organization which functions as a support agency to larger parachurch organizations and other denominations, providing money and people. As the ARPChurch is drying up and wasting away into something less than a micro-denomination in the US, (with the exception of legacy denominations in Mexico and Pakistan) the ARPChurch is irrelevant on the mission field. Does anyone realize the stated goal of World Witness is NOT planting Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregations on the mission field? If that is done, it is considered a form of religious colonialism. And how do I know this. Alex Pettit told me.
Perhaps theological ineptitude in the ranks of the leadership of World Witness is why the ARPChurch fails to advance on the mission field. Indeed, an organization is not going higher than its leadership
For a number of years now, Director Alex Pettit, a member of the Greenville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, has desired ordination through Second Presbytery. Two years ago, he drove full bore to get it, saying (after eight years as the director) he needed ordination in order to have parity with ministers. Never mind that John Mariner led World Witness successfully for 30 years as a layman and never thought of himself as less than a minister. As a matter of fact, Associate Reformed Presbyterians and others in the world of foreign missions thought Mariner was a minister. As theologically articulate as most ministers I have known, I once asked John why he didn’t pursued ordination, and he responded: “I don’t need it; I’m just an administrator.”
When Pettit came before Second Presbytery, his exam was awful. When asked to outline the book of Genesis, he was unable to do it. When asked to define theological terms, he was shaky, confusing terms. The most embarrassing moment occurred when Andrew Di Iulio (attempting to rescue him, saying, “Let me give you a snowball and get you back on track!”) asked, “What is the proper pronoun for the Holy Spirit?” Pettit answered, “It.” Groans from the presbytery. Second try, “She!” Groans from the presbytery. Third attempt: “He.” There is no fourth option!
It is a serious matter when a denominational leader is confused about the Trinity!
Notwithstanding, there was a circling of the wagons. Matt Miller who was Pettit’s pastor when he was the pastor of the Greenville Church went into protection mode. Tom Shoger, a member of the Board of World Witness, also went into protection mode. So, how does one spell “nepotism?”
Since 1976, I do not know anyone in Second Presbytery who has encouraged and promoted more men into the ministry than Chuck Wilson. I worked hard with the candidates I promoted. I told them, “Just because I support you, do not think I will throw ‘snowball’ questions to you. I expect more of you than others. I will ask hard questions.” I never led a circling of the wagons to protect a candidate who did poorly.
Needless to say, this spectacle of nepotistic tomfoolery and ecclesiastical nonsense led by Matt Miller and Tom Shoger has resulted in bitter division in Second Presbytery, with at least one congregation withdrawing, with numerous individuals resigning from committees, and calls for the dissolving of Second Presbytery on both sides of the isle.
EDUCATIONAL INDICATORS: Going Down!
1) Erskine College
I have waited to see if the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Magazine would report that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has placed Erskine on “Warning” AGAIN. Well, no! Bad news about Erskine is concealed from the eyes of the hoi polloi of the ARPChurch. One must not say anything ill about Erskine — even if it’s true.
Below is what SACS auditors reported.
For twelve months for failure to comply with Core Requirement 4.1 (Governing board characteristics), Core Requirement 13.1 (Financial resources), and Standard 13.3 (Financial responsibility) of the Principles of Accreditation, a Special Committee was authorized to visit the institution.
So, what does it mean? It means, for the third time since the "Snow Synod,” Erskine finds itself receiving an accreditation sanction from SACS. I think I’m correct in stating that between 1925 to 2010 Erskine did not receive a public sanction from an accrediting agency.
For those interested, below is the full text of the “Principles of Accreditation” with which Erskine is NOT in compliance.
Requirement 4.1: "The institution has a governing board of at least five members that: a) is the legal body with specific authority over the institution. b) exercises fiduciary oversight of the institution. c) ensures that both the presiding officer of the board and a majority of other voting members of the board are free of any contractual, employment, personal, or familial financial interest in the institution. d) is not controlled by a minority of board members or by organizations or institutions separate from it. e) is not presided over by the chief executive officer of the institution.”
Requirement 13.1: "The institution has sound financial resources and a demonstrated, stable financial base to support the mission of the institution and the scope of its programs and services.”
Requirement 13.3: "The institution manages its financial resources in a responsible manner.”
In other words, the SACS auditors have found that Erskine does not have sufficient financial resources, that it is not properly managing its finances, and that the board of trustees has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to providing oversight (PARTICULARLY FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT) of the institution. It kinda sounds like what happened with the Minister’s Retirement Fund, doesn’t it? The leadership of he ARPChurch doesn’t know how to handle money!
For those of you who thought a myriad of sports programs (and particularly, football) would save Erskine College (for sports programs would draw in multitudes of students and money), you were wrong. The broken mantra of “Sports, Sports, Sports” has forever erased Erskine’s reputation as an elite academic institution.
Recently, Erskine College reported the baseball team beat the Southern Wesleyan University’s baseball team 40 to 8, tying the NCAA Division II record by hitting 12 home runs in a game. According to the news release, this is the most runs scored in a game and the most home runs hit in a game this season in NCAA Division II play. I bet 10,000 fans were present to see it. I also bet an armored car was necessary to transport the receipts from the game to the Due West bank.
The situation at Erskine College is such that the Bible is taught, but it is ignored. The situation at Erskine is so bad that the chaplain is a Pentecostal, charismatic who preaches a gospel of health and wealth instead of Christ the Savior. The situation at Erskine College is such that the Ten Commandments are carved in stone at the front fountain but ignored. Nevertheless, God’s blessing on the institution is expected, and the students are expected to rise above the ordinary in Jesus’ Name. And for you who do not understand, this action is the equivalent of taking God’s name in vain.
2) Erskine Seminary
The situation at Erskine Seminary remains bleak. If it were not for faculty members in their offices and a few administrators wandering around Bowie Hall (the seminary building in Due West) and the Extension site in Columbia (on the campus of First Presbyterian Church), the seminary building and the seminary extension site are empty caverns. No one is there! A stroll down their halls is a walk through an echo chamber.
Erskine Seminary has become a small online seminary. This year there were only 31 graduates. Only 6 were MDiv graduates. Only 2 or 3 were Associate Reformed Presbyterians.
For some inexplicable reason, the seminary leadership decided to advance the ThM program as a “cash cow.” The ThM program is a degree designed for those who desire to teach or pursue a PhD or ThD.
To oversee the multitudes who want a ThM degree, Matt Miller has been appointed to supervise the program. Interestingly, has he ever taught a seminary course or successfully administered a seminary program? Nevertheless, it is his charge to promote the benefits of pursuing a ThM program to pastors who have a theological itch to scratch, but no idea how save their congregations from decline. Well, being snarky and cynical, I suppose a ThM program gives a minister something to occupy his mind and time as his congregation dies.
So, if you’re a minister, why attend Erskine Seminary for a ThM? So that Matt Miller can teach you how to plateau a congregation, teach you how to become so upset with a congregation that you want to preach them to hell instead of heaven, and become so disillusioned with preaching that you had rather hear a sermon than preach a sermon?!
As events are playing out, the ARPChurch is administratively mismanaged on every level by incompetent and feckless leaders in the sense that they have failed in ministry and now call failure success. It’s a long story of individuals collapsing or plateauing congregations or agencies. It is a long story of failed agency leaders and pastors being helped to another place in order to fail or plateau again and again in Jesus’ name. Associate Reformed Presbyterians are so accustomed to incompetence, fecklessness, failure, and nepotism in leaders that they suspect anyone who succeeds or promotes the idea of meritocracy. Associate Reformed Presbyterians ignore the Great Commission and wonder why their congregations are shriveling.
Rightly, the leaders of the ARPChurch decry the “health and wealth” gospel as false and deadly; but they have embraced the gospel of “dying and broke” which is just as false and deadly! The glaring truth of this is in their dying and shrinking congregations.
The ARPChurch is not going down the toilet, the ARPChurch is DOWN THE TOILET!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson