As a lover of long words, a long word describes my thinking in this post. In a time of financial uncertainty, watching the churchmen who run Central Services in Greenville applying for a government loan instead of appealing to God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is gut-wrenching. Does this reflect a distrust of the people in the pews? Has the ARP Center become the Vatican of Greenville? Have the various boards and agencies distanced themselves so far from the people of the pews they have become parachurch organizations? And, like parachurch organizations, are their own agendas and continuation the foremost priority? Have they lost their role as servants of Christ’s people in the congregations? Like politicians in Washington, do they think they know better than the people they claim to serve? As I said, what I am watching is gut-wrenching. What I think about it is floccinaucinihilipilification. Now, that’s a word. What’s in a word?
If you know me well, you know I love long words. If you have never seen, heard, or attempted to pronounce floccinaucinihilipilification (FLOK-si-NO-si-NY-HIL-i-PIL-i-fi-KAY-shuhn), you are not alone. Though the word is rare, the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina (who had a biting sense of humor) was fond of using it. According to the dictionary, it is the longest non-technical word in the English language. The word describes the act of considering something valueless, useless, or worthless.
In the last issue of ARPTalk, “The Noble and the Ignoble,” April 14 (https://arptalk.org/the-noble-and-the-ignoble/), I reported the Executive Board of General Synod had called an “emergency” meeting in order to hear a motion to apply for the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program Loan (PPP), just in case there is a future financial emergency and Central Services is unable to pay salaries. Unexpectedly, after vigorous discussion, in a divided vote, the motion to apply was adopted 9 to 7. We have been reduced to begging the federal government for money! I suppose the God of the Bible who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all the treasures of gold and silver is unable to provide!
There are many of us who believe the Executive Board’s vote to apply for the PPP loan is wrongheaded, disingenuous, and tramples on the consciences of their brothers who cannot reconcile why any faith-based organization, let alone an evangelical denomination, would actively seek to entangle itself in the regulating fetters of the federal government’s anti-Christian and God-hating bureaucracy. The federal government’s agenda which promotes abortion on demand, gay marriage, and LGBT ideology cannot be squared with the publicly stated positions of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on these issues (https://arpchurch.org/learn/what-we-believe/). Clearly, the terms of the PPP loan application state participants MUST abide by federal policies.
If a sum of about $350,000 is so essential to the operation of Central Services in Greenville, why has no appeal been made to God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Where is the appeal by the Executive Board? Why has news of this crisis not appeared in the ARPMagazine? The silence is deafening!
Compounding this debacle, is a second meeting of the Executive Board which was called to reconsider the PPP loan application. In this meeting, the Executive Board imploded on itself. Declaring, by a vote of 10 to 7, there was no new information to be considered, the meeting was closed. This is parliamentary tyranny. As per parliamentary procedure, a request to reconsider was properly made by a member voting on the prevailing side and ignored. At that point, the issues of an emergency or new information are irrelevant. So, how is this not parliamentary tyranny?
Since the meetings of the Executive Board, if you have watched or read the news, you are aware of well-funded businesses and institutions which have improperly applied for and received the PPP loan. To avoid public shaming and possible litigation, many of them have returned their loan (see the list: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-public-companies-are-returning-emergency-loans-meant-for-small-businesses-2020-04-29).
Our Office of World Witness has also declined the PPP loan. As I was informed, their executive committee met and voted to rescind the loan. Good for them! This would have been a fundraising nightmare! Imagine, “MISSIONARIES FOR JESUS VIA FEDERAL FUNDING!”
The ARPMagazine (housed at the ARP Center in Greenville and under the care of Central Services) usually reports on “all things ARP.” But not on the Executive Board’s begging! Where is the journalistic integrity of the ARPMagazine? Has the editor been gagged, is there a cover-up, or are the blunderings of the Executive Board too unpleasant to report in a Church newsletter? If it were not for ARPTalk, news of this embarrassing episode would not exist.
The Executive Board’s actions have aroused the passions of many in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I know letters of protest are being considered. I know letters of protest have been sent. I know there are conversations about withdrawing financial support to the DMF as it relates to Central Services. Yes, I hope funds are withheld. Here is an unalterable principle: people cannot be compelled to give, and people will not give if it violates their consciences.
The action of the Executive Board has sparked my thinking about the ARP Center and the boards housed there. Has the ARP Center in Greenville become the Vatican of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, holding the keys to the church? Have the Greenville boards become entities unto themselves, functioning as parachurch organizations, led by bishops?
To begin with, are denomination boards detrimental to our Presbyterian system? Often, in our presbytery meetings, we proudly speak of our connectional nature as those who practice a Presbyterian form of government which is ascending. But that is not what we have become. Over the years, our boards subverted our ecclesiology: reversing the flow from ascending to descending. Over a period of time, boards become kingdoms — parachurch organizations which operate according to their own agendas. Each of our Greenville boards has it own 501c3 which is distinct from the 501c3 of the General Synod. Each board has its own employees, accounting system, fundraising mechanism, accountability network, and distinct culture. Once a year, the boards of the Greenville Vatican report to General Synod to inform the delegates how they are the General Synod and to remind everyone how indispensable they are. They, however, function as independent entities the other 364 days of the year — like parachurch organizations. The goal of a board/parachurch organization is its continuation in contradistinction to the health of the denomination which gave it life. The prime example of this is Erskine College and Seminary as Erskine is in relationship with the General Synod. On many occasions, the chairman of the Erskine board has reminded the delegates of General Synod of the board’s independence in governance. The only relationship left is a “fig leaf” which ensures financial support — like a parachurch organization fundraising.
Since 1973, I have questioned the role of the Board of Church Extension (then)/Outreach North America (now). Having planted congregations in Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, (and having read the FOG), I naively though the presbytery was “the essential court” of our system of church government, vested with the “power” to plant, organize, and receive congregations. In my work, I learned a church planter has to navigate through a local steering committee, a provisional session, a presbytery committee, and the Director of Church Extension/Outreach North America, and, though the folks under whom I served were nice and well-meaning people, they did not have the foggiest notion of what I was doing. Later, when I became a member of the Board of Church Extension in the 1990s (and served when we reorganized as Outreach North America), I learned ONA did more than coordinate, recommend, counsel, and assist our presbyteries. I learned ONA subsumed much of the role of the presbytery in church planting. The role of ONA is spelled large. ONA controls who the church planter can be. Financial support from ONA is dependent on presbytery’s compliance. And, in recent years, ONA has contributed to the “worship wars.” Though I am not a fan of what many call “the regulative principle,” I have read our Directory of Public Worship, and the Directory does not champion the ideas of those who embrace “contemporary worship.” I am distressed by the emphasis on “contemporary worship” which, in recent years, has flowed out of ONA and created considerable distrust of ONA. When I have relayed my concerns about ONA, the response I have been met with is the chilling idea our presbyteries cannot be trusted to do church planting. Really? Our system is badly broken if we cannot trust our presbyteries. Frankly, if a presbytery is unwilling to grow, it needs to die. However, from my observation, when congregational monies are diverted from church planting in the presbytery to support the DMF’s boards and agencies, a presbytery is left destitute in church planting efforts and made to beg the largess of ONA. If I were young again, in spite of the daunting challenges of church planting, I would still be a church planter; however, not in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I could not abide the frustration! Finally, the acid test for ONA is how the footprint of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is expanding or contracting. If I owned stock in ONA, I would immediately sell!
I have always admired and been amazed at the Associate Reformed Presbyterians of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. A tiny denomination, with little money and few people, but, with abounding energy, unwavering courage, and a God-sized vision, accomplished the near impossible. Their outstanding work of taking the gospel to Egypt, India, and Mexico is praiseworthy. The monuments to their faithfulness are the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Mexico. I am now told the mission of denomination building is passé and imperialistic. Who says? Well, if such is the case, why do we even have an Office of World Witness? It is just another parachurch organization duplicating and reduplicating other parachurch organizations. All I can say is hurly-burly (and don’t miss the pun)! Extra large photographs of starving-children will be needed for fundraising!
For years, I have attempted to figure out what CEM does. There is a bookstore in the Greenville Vatican, but Amazon is less expensive, more comprehensive, and faster in delivery. Our ministers in General Synod have multiple degrees, and, unless seminary education is far different now, they have taken courses in Christian education — and, of course, they know how to read and use the Internet which opens to them ALL the resources of the evangelical and Reformed community for Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and small groups. I understand and applaud the work of CEM in Camp Joy, and I also understand the incorporation of CEM in order to protect General Synod from litigation if a child gets hurt. However, is there a more efficient way to do this? Indeed, as I look at CEM, it seems the most important duties for the director are giving a report at General Synod and asking for funding.
I can say more, and I may in a future post, but I am sure I have already stretched the patience and endurance of some of my readers.
My wife and I were watching the early morning news a few days ago. The Attorney General (AG) of Pennsylvania was saying there must be transparency in government during this time of pandemic.
I said to my wife, “Honey, change clothes! We’re going for a ride!”
In the van, I told her to put heaven in the GPS. Well, it was a bit of a drive, but my wife drives fast, and we were there in no time.
St. Peter answered the door when I knocked. He said, “It’s not your time! Chuck, why are you here?”
I told him about the AG of Pennsylvania, and said I had never seen a transparent lawyer/politician. I said, “May I see one?” St. Peter told me to go to hell.
Of course, I was disappointed, and it was too far and too late in the day to do what St. Peter said. But, on the way home, I thought to myself, “I’m glad I didn’t ask about a transparent churchman.”
I began this post asking, “What’s in a word?” Actually, a great deal. Words are how we communicate.
I like floccinaucinihilipilification!
I hope this article opens conversations. I really want to see what you think. I know what many of you say in conversations around the table, on the phone, and under the trees at Bonclarken. As the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church continues down the dark and winding road leading to oblivion, will we sit silently, waiting for the inevitable? I do not think it is too late for a change in direction. Do you?
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
Floccinaucinihilipilification. Haven’t heard that word in a while. But I’ve heard it in the past! My younger son, now aged 29, kinda fixated on the sound of it, oh, 22-23 years ago. I don’t remember that he knew, or yet knows, the definition, but apparently it was fun to mumble it while marching through the manse in the mid 1990s.
Your Ohio RP reader,
Dear Phil Pockras,
Good to hear from you. I hope all is well in the RPCNA. Let’s sing a psalm!
Not too long ago, a friend sent “floccinaucinihilipilification” to me in an email. It’s not hard to spell, but it is a beast to pronounce correctly. Thankfully, there is YouTube!
Actually, the words is pretty useless — like church boards!
You asked, “Does this (i.e., the action of the ARP Executive Board as reported on by you) reflect a distrust of the people in the pews?”
You ask a very searching question.
I do not know the answer to that question. That is hopefully for others to answer.
The action you reported and the question you asked did spur different but related questions in my mind.
Is it biblically, confessionally, and ecclesiastically right for such a denomination as the ARP Synod to request and receive such loans from the federal government?
If it is, is the federal government to be trusted, (given recent prohibitions imposed upon churches by civil governors), to the extent of accepting up to $350,000 in repayable loans, trusting that there will be no negative unintended consequences (in the near term or long term future) to the ARP Synod, its agencies and institutions?
I ask as someone who led an ARP Synodical agency (Erskine Seminary from 2014 through early 2016). I can recall in 2015 when the most recent previous federal administration issued an executive order that suddenly and negatively impacted the Seminary’s finances . That executive order effectively required the Seminary, at a time of great financial challenge, to end its participation in a federal contract to train US Army hospital chaplains in the Doctor of Ministry program. That Executive Order required that those private institutions who did not agree with recent changes in law and policy regarding gay marriage would no longer be permitted to participate in federal contracts.
Is that action taken on which you reported, then, the fiscal equivalent of a denomination “dining with the devil“? If it is, how do the parties who made the decision know that it has “a long enough spoon” to do so safely?
We are in the middle of an economic contraction with unemployment headed for 20% at a rapid rate. In six months, we will hold a national election that could mean a change of administrations. What will that administration’s attitude be towards loans to churches, given increasing hostility and persecution of religious organizations in America and worldwide?
I leave that question to be answered by those who have may have the competence and courage to do so. Thanks for your questions, and for the opportunity to ask mine.
Dear Chris Wisdom,
Thanks for the comments, and it is so good to hear from you again.
As some of you know, Dr. Wisdom was the Vice President of Erskine Seminary until 2016 when he was unceremoniously and unfairly driven away by former President Paul Kooistra. After a long career in Army, Dr. Wisdom speaks with authority on issues regarding the anti-God bias of the federal government.
Chris, the fig-leaf used by church people to justify their application for the PPP loans is the promise in the PPP loan application that the government will not discriminate against them in the loan or, at a later date, the government will not legally censure them for their views which do not square with what the government says about abortion-on-demand, homosexuality, transgender, gay marriage, and other social issues. As you point out, a presidential executive order changes everything quickly. A promise in a loan application is only worth the paper on with it is printed. One thing in life I have learned is this: a fool trusts the government. In the Apostolic Church, the Roman government’s ploy was: “If you will burn incense to Caesura and call him ‘Lord,’ we will not persecute you!” Woe to those who believe such nonsense!
Chris, you are right-on when you say there is no spoon long enough to dine with the devil. The problem with so many of our pastors and church leaders is a long spoon is not needed. They are face down and lip smacking in the devil’s own plate. I know this is a harsh statement, but how else do you color it? Dinning with the devil is what Central Services is doing!
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