ARP Church Family 2 ARPTalk Reverend Chuck Wilson Synod

DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY (2)

A Two Part Analysis of the Meeting of General Synod

In the last issue of ARPTalk, by identifying the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as a dysfunctional family, I am sure I offended some of my more sensitive readers who live in the fragile world of nice. However, as I was taught in counseling (and I have found it to be true in ministry), families of more than one person are dysfunctional — and it’s to be expected. We have a theological and Biblical answer. Sin breaks everything about us. Sin makes us dysfunctional. Holding our views on the corruptive, invasive, and pervasive nature of sin, I am shocked when conservative and evangelical Presbyterians live as though they and their families are exempt. Well, we are not exempt. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church isn’t exempt. Everything we touch is infected. Well, I digress, and this is a topic for another day. Let me return to an analysis of what took place at General Synod.

As noted in the last issue of ARPTalk, the discussion and debate on the the report by the Blue Ribbon Committee was long, exhausting, and contentious. There was other business. The items which were pro forma were attended to by the Executive Board before Synod. Some of the others items were lumped together and received by consent. We flew through the other items at warp speed.

Item 11, Special Committee on Denominational Spending:

This committee has been working for two years. Chairman Patrick Malphrus reported the following.

  1. 73 of our churches have less than 100 members.
  2. 20 congregations give 61% of the Denomination Ministry Fund (DMF).
  3. 30 congregations give 72% of the DMF.
  4. The 2.6 million dollars of the DMF is used to fund our boards and agencies (and perhaps a better name for the DMF is “Denomination Administrative Fund”).
  5. Malphrus noted one of our boards/agencies spent $87,560 more than was allocated from the DMF to pay the director’s and other employee’s salaries (and mainly it was the director’s salary).
  6. Mr. Malphrus asked, “Should we spend 2.6 million dollars to run the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church?”
  7. He informed the delegates that the DMF allocates $814,000 for salaries which represents one-third of the DMF. Once upon a time we paid a whole lot less than that and got much more for it. As pointed out in the Moderator’s Committee on Benefits, the average Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister has a salary under $50,000, and he is expected (through his congregation’s budget to fund the DMF) to provide for administrative directors whose salaries are $150,000 and more (that is, three times his salary). Added to this, that minister probably doubts the competency of those directors (and in my opinion he should!). Is there any wonder a motion to study the restructuring of our denomination from boards and agencies to committees and commissions was passed?

A motion to make our congregational funding to the DMF a 10% tax failed badly.

This was a terrible miscalculation by a number of the ONA folks who had their noses out-of-joint over the hiring freeze. This is not the first time this idea has come up and crashed. It’s not going to happen. There is no way to enforce it, and here’s why. Take for example a small congregation with a budget of $117,000. The DMF tax is $10,700. The pastor’s salary is $50,000, the 12% retirement contribution is $6,000, the cost of denominational health insurance is $20,000+, and that leaves the congregation with $41,000 to pay for electric and heating services, water and sewer services, phone service, computer service, yard service for the grounds, repairs to the building, supplies for the building and office, replacement of furniture and appliances, et cetera. A 10% tax is not odious for a large congregation with a million dollar budget; however, a 10% tax for a small congregation with a budget of $117,000 is crushing. Such a tax, if ever passed by General Synod, will be ignored!

Index 12, Special Committee to Produce Directory on Private and Family Worship.

The Directory was received without comment. It is now available to members, congregations, and presbyteries for comment.

Index 14, Special Commission of Complaint/Appeal.

The report of the Commission regarding the Rev. Scott Robar was received without comment.

Index 24, Committee on Theological and Social Concerns.

After years of work, the draft of a new Book of Discipline has been sent to our presbyteries for approval. The committee was granted another year to study the issues involving membership in the Masonic Lodge. A lighter moment was had on the floor of Synod when Rev. Mark Miller, in his thick western North Carolina drawl, objected to the study as “a waste of time” and asked, “Had you rather have a Mason or a member of the Democrat Party as a member of your church?” I can’t remember if it were on the floor or in a conversation with Mark when he said, “Masons through their Shriners’ hospitals care for children with birth defects, the leadership of the Democrat Party advocate for unrestricted abortions which kill both normal babies and babies with birth defects. So, had you rather have a Mason or a Democrat?” I don’t know about others, but I can’t argue with Mark’s reasoning at this point.

Index 30, Erskine College and Seminary.

A housekeeping recommendation regarding board membership was passed without comment. By the time the Erskine report came to the floor, we were exhausted, and no one was in the mood to discuss the continuing saga of the misery which is Erskine. Though tired, I was a bit disappointed. I had two questions. The first question is how does football, rodeo, bass fishing and a myriad of other sports programs at Erskine College promote the mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Can anyone remember when Erskine had a reputation for academic excellence as a Liberal Arts college? Erskine has become just another anemic secular college using sports programs to survive. My second question involves the seminary. The MDiv program of a seminary is the “new preacher” producing program. I am informed the MDiv program at ETS has only two Associate Reformed Presbyterians, and they are online students. In other words, there are no resident Associate Reformed Presbyterian students. I am told the average resident MDiv student is middle aged, looking at ministry as a second career, female, and some kind of Baptist or Methodist. So, is it fair to ask how the ETS MDiv program benefits the mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? I remember past years when seminary students from the various seminaries were introduced to General Synod, and they covered the front stage from left-to-right. There were not many this year, and it seemed a goodly number of those introduced were from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia. Sadly, both ETS and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church are dying.

Index 32, Board of Stewardship.

All the recommendations of the Board of Stewardship were adopted without comment. As noted in the first part of my evaluation,

  1. the Board of Stewardship presented a budget with a 20% reduction in allocations to the board and agencies in order to provide for the recapitalization of the Retirement Fund;
  2. a motion to launch a Capital Funds campaign for the recapitalization of the Retirement Fund was set in motion;
  3. a Select Committee to conduct a study on why the Board of Benefits allowed the Retirement Fund crisis to unfold is to be appointed;
  4. a resolution reminding the members of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church that care for the local minister is “Job One,” if the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is to survive and flourish on both the local and corporate levels; and
  5. that presbyteries and local congregations be aware of the needs of retired ministers and assist them in attending Synod if they are financially unable to do so.

Item 34, World Witness, Board of Foreign Missions of the ARP Church.

The report was presented as information. One can only ask, “Why do we need THIS denominational board on world witness? Reading the board’s report carefully, WW functions as a parachurch organization to funnel resources to other parachurch organizations. Giving to a parachurch organization can be done directly without a middleman. Once the role of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in foreign missions was aggressive and noble with the founding of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Mexico and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Pakistan. It has been a long, long, long time since the foreign missions’ arm of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has been engaged in advancing the footprint of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church around the world. Could one of the reasons the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is languishing be because of our failure to take church planting seriously overseas? Is God’s judgment upon us? A good friend who is no longer an Associate Reformed Presbyterian said to me, “Chuck, no one has better statements on faith than the ARP Church, and no one does less!” Such dilly dallying around is taken seriously by the God of the Bible who says “Go!” In judgment, is our lampstand being extinguished and the task transferred to others who are more noble?

Index 37,

Outreach North America. Ugh! Enough has been said.

Index 38,

Wm. H. Dunlap Orphanage, Inc. Noble work is done here!

Index 70, Memorials.

There were three significant memorials.

  1. A memorial from the Canadian Presbytery asking if the civil magistrate has authority to impose restrictions on the worship of the church in a time of an emergency was referred for study.
  2. A memorial from Second Presbytery asking whether the authority of the Board of World Witness over an ordained minister trumped the authority of the Presbytery which ordained him and is charged to oversee his ministry was sent to the Board of World Witness for comment.
  3. A memorial from the Tennessee-Alabama Presbytery asking for permission for congregations and ministers to pursue medical insurance programs other than Synod’s medical insurance program was referred for study.

Finally, let me close my report with a disclaimer. The membership of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is reported in the first part of my analysis as 22,393. If one looks on page 177 of the Minutes of Synod: 2019, on the bottom of the page, one will see the membership of our denomination is reported to be 22,393. An alarming decline. However, if one is still able to do simple math or use a calculator to add a column of numbers, one will find the membership is 26,062. That is a decline of 1,768 in membership from the previous year. When we are as small as we are, any decline is serious. Declining membership is common for us. Our membership trajectory is down. An investor would say, “If you have stock in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, dump it!” Paraphrasing the words of Will Rogers who said, “All I know is what I read in the papers”; well, all I know is what I read in the Minutes of Synod. Good grief! We can’t even get addition right! The statistical reports are important. What are the folks at 918 South Pleasantburg Drive doing?

These are my thoughts,

 

Charles W. Wilson

8 Comments

  1. Howard Carlson on November 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    I have read both of your reports with great sadness. May our Sovereign God raise up leaders who will bring new life. Your report on foreign extension was especially hard since I have spent almost half of my ministry in Palestine and Africa. The needs are so great.

    • Charles Wilson on November 7, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Dear Howard Carlson,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, “sadness” is the right word.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

  2. Craig Mutton on November 6, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    As a former ARP member, it does not surprise me that political affiliation outweighs the Ten Commandments in the estimation of some of the clergy. Yes, abortion is a murderous practice, but not every Democrat endorses the practice, and more than a few Republicans do. On the other hand, every Freemason worldwide kneels at a common altar with worshipers of false gods and swears a common oath to the Great (or Grand) Architect of the Universe (GAOTU).

    Members of the Lodge approach the GAOTU of Masonry on the basis of that oath, not on the merits of Jesus Christ. It is an affront to God Most High that churches of any denomination serve Communion to those who have put themselves in league with a false god, let alone — as in some cases — suffer them to preside at the Communion table.

    • Charles Wilson on November 7, 2020 at 9:24 am

      Dear Craig Mutton,

      Thanks for the comment.

      One, you missed the humor.

      Two, you missed the point. Which commandment is the weightier, the second or the sixth?

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

  3. R J Gore on November 14, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Dear Chuck, I was surprised by your comments about Erskine Seminary, our students, and the Master of Divinity degree. I write today to give you some information that presents an accurate picture of the seminary. According to the most recent ATS report, in 2019 the denomination with the largest number of students at Erskine Seminary was the ARP Church, with 41% of the student body.
    This fall there are 32 students from the ARP, twelve of whom are pursuing the Master of Divinity degree under the approval of their respective presbyteries. Six ARP students are pursuing the DMin and seven the Master of Theology. As you know, most students in the DMin or ThM degree are already serving in ministry.
    In addition to the 32 ARP students, nine students are from the PCA (six MDiv, three DMin) and a handful of students represent other Presbyterian bodies. The remaining ARP students are enrolled in one of our MA degrees.
    In all of our Master of Divinity courses, language courses excepted, students are required to 1) preach a sermon, 2) teach a Sunday School Lesson, or 3) lead a Bible Study in a real ministry setting and be evaluated by someone on the church staff as well as by the course instructor. So, even online courses are grounded in the practice of real ministry in the student’s home church. And, yes, during the COVID Spring, Erskine Seminary- like everyone else- was 100% online. Currently, about half of our course offerings are online and the other half are “live” and in person.
    So, to summarize, ARPs and other like-minded Presbyterians have the highest denominational representation at Erskine Seminary in 2020 and of those students, 34 (ARP and PCA) are either students of theology preparing for ministry (MDiv) or men who are already in ministry and seeking advanced training to enhance their existing ministry (ThM, DMin).
    I hope this provides a clearer understanding of the ARP Church’s seminary. R J Gore, Dean

    • Charles Wilson on November 15, 2020 at 7:38 pm

      Dear RJ Gore,

      Thanks for the comments.

      Sorry for the slow response. Today is a preaching day and a socializing day.

      What I wrote is below:

      “I am informed the MDiv program at ETS has only two Associate Reformed Presbyterians, and they are online students. In other words, there are no resident Associate Reformed Presbyterian students. I am told the average resident MDiv student is middle aged, looking at ministry as a second career, female, and some kind of Baptist or Methodist.”

      One, I am not interested in what is reported to ATS. Remember who I am. I served on the Erskine board for six years, and I have been around the ETS community for more years than six. I have witnessed the marvel of how numbers are used evangelistically in reporting.

      Two, I’m not interested in how ETS serves the PCA or other Presbyterian and Reformed denominations or the Baptists or Methodists, for they add nothing to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

      Three, I was present at General Synod this years when students were presented to General Synod. There were not many from Erskine. For that matter, there were not many from other seminaries either. I am told one of our larger congregation has six interns from RTS-C. They wanted an Erskine representation and no one was available.

      Four, I am not interested in a headcount, nor am I interested in those who are taking one or two classes online or those who are auditing courses. What is the FTE — and what is the FTE of Associate Reformed Presbyterian students pursuing the MDiv when it is a 12 hour FTE?

      Five, I am not interested in those who are pursuing a ThM, for the ThM does not normally add to the ministerial pool. And, as one who has a DMin from ETS, I am aware the DMin is a “vanity” degree (and it doesn’t matter the name of the seminary which confers it), and I am also aware the DMin serves as a “cash cow.”

      Six, the idea of ministerial education by means of online classes is anathema to me. In 47 years of ministry, I have found that those who were trained online have not done well in congregations. In the words of one of our old friends, “An online ministerial education does not a competent minister make.”

      Seven, so, how many Associate Reformed Presbyterian MDiv students are resident students in Due West (or at one of the other sites) who are taking an academic load of 12 hours or more?

      Eight, for your information, when I have visited Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary or RTS-Charlotte, I have found classes filled with students. The last time I visited ETS-Due West and ETS-Columbian, I found both empty classes and empty buildings. I walked in. I looked around. I walked out. No one was there.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

  4. R J Gore on November 15, 2020 at 11:08 pm

    Chuck- Please note that I find your comment offensive: “One, I am not interested in what is reported to ATS. Remember who I am. I served on the Erskine board for six years, and I have been around the ETS community for more years than six. I have witnessed the marvel of how numbers are used evangelistically in reporting.”

    To which I would respond, Remember who I am. The reports to ATS go out over my signature as Dean. The numbers we give to ATS are meticulously scrubbed for accuracy. I call your attention to LC Q/A 144 which you clearly ignored in the above comment. You should be ashamed.

    I could say more about how theological education is changing and how our Competency Based Education (CBE) requirements (the sermon, Bible Study, etc. I mentioned) provide more contextualized real ministry than you and I had in our seminary days. For example, when I took preaching classes, I preached in class to fellow students. Period. Today, our online preaching students still do that, but they also preach at least one sermon in their local church with evaluation from their local church leadership. As I noted in my posted response, this CBE assignment is a requirement in all of our courses, both online and residence (with the exception of biblical language classes).

    As noted, I could say more, but that would be a waste of time. Clearly your mind is made up. In fact, changing educational modalities present questions that have divided theological educators with good men on both sides of the residency issue. You are entitled to your opinion, but your comments show little familiarity with ongoing discussions regarding delivery modalities in contemporary theological education. And a complete lack of understanding as to how Erskine Online forms our students for hands-on ministry. -RJG

    • Charles Wilson on November 16, 2020 at 5:00 pm

      Dear RJ Gore,

      One, I am sorry you are offended at my first comment. I was speaking from years of experience with the Erskine community. My experiences! Don’t you remember how we have often discussed how numbers were used evangelistically? For example, a 12 hour FTE is different from a 9 hour FTE. Sorry, but after 40-plus years of reading Erskine reports, I don’t trust much of anything that comes out of Due West. I guess I’m from Missouri — “show me!”

      Two, I don’t care about ATS. Accreditation by ATS doesn’t secures much of anything theological or academic. ATS accreditation does, however, guarantee the opportunity to get federal money. And federal money is important!

      Three, RJ, you speak of “Competency Based Education.” You define it as “students are required to 1) preach a sermon, 2) teach a Sunday School Lesson, or 3) lead a Bible Study in a real ministry setting and be evaluated by someone on the church staff as well as by the course instructor.” You add that this “provide[s] more contextualized real ministry than you and I had in our seminary days.” RJ, that pitiful! That’s incompetence! Speak for yourself! On my first Sunday at RTS, I had a preaching assignment. I preached nearly every Sunday while I was in seminary. I planted a church while I was in seminary. My last quarter at RTS I was a student and the pastor of the White Oak Presbyterian Church (preaching, visiting members in their homes and patiences in the hospital and nursing home, chairing meetings, and conducting funerals). I regret I missed the benefits of “Competency Based Education.”

      Four, you write, “your comments show little familiarity with ongoing discussions regarding delivery modalities in contemporary theological education.” Really? It seems to me that “contemporary theological education” is not succeeding.

      For you information, the ATS website shows that in 2019 ETS had a headcount of 121 and a FTE of 49.5 for all programs. BTW, isn’t the ETS FTE based on 9 hours (three classes) instead of 12 hours (4 classes)?

      Once again, what is the FTE for Associate Reformed Presbyterian MDiv students (and, please, use a 12 hour FTE)?

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

Leave a Comment