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The PC(USA) and Church Property, Part 6

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, September 22, 2008

Part 6 of series: The PC(USA) and Church Property
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If a congregation in the PC(USA) begins to consider leaving the denomination, what should it do? (When I say “congregation,” I mean especially the leaders of the congregation, including elders, deacons, and pastors.)

I’m going to sketch out some contours of an ideal process. I fully recognize that what I’m describing may not work in many, many cases. It requires that church leaders and denominational leaders be mature and gracious in seeking, not their own will, but God’s will. Sometimes this happens. Often it does not. In far too many cases, the hearts of church leaders on all levels, from local to national, are captured by some demonic power, perhaps unrighteous anger, spite, vengeance, or Mammon.

When the issue of church property arises, Mammon gets especially busy, and often prevails, at least in the moment. I’m not simply waxing poetic here. Scripture teaches that our true battle as Christians “is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Mammon is one of these powers specifically named by Jesus himself (Matt 6:24). Church property fights are not fundamentally battles between churches and presbyteries, though they might seem so. They are, more deeply, spiritual battles that engage all sorts of cosmic powers.

I say this not simply to be theological or dramatic. It seems to me that, if a church believes God might be leading it to leave a denomination, the very first step is to take seriously the spiritual dimensions of what lies ahead. If it’s true that the church’s leaving will strengthen its mission, then you can be sure that the hosts of Hell will do what they can to derail the process. Besides, Satan and his minions rejoice when Christians sue each other, when they drain away kingdom resources in court battles, and when they look like enemies before the eyes of the world.

So what should a church do if it begins to consider leaving the PC(USA)? The starting point, given the reality of Ephesians 6:12, is to follow Ephesians 6:13-18:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

So, then, here is the first thing a church should do if it thinks God might be leading it to leave the PC(USA):

1. Put on the whole armor of God.

Specifically, this means a congregation should ask itself questions like:

Belt of Truth

• Are we being faithful to the whole of God’s truth, including biblical passages that make us uncomfortable?

• Are we being truthful in all of our communications with members, with presbytery, etc.? (Photo: A mosaic of two Roman gladiators found in Kourion, Cyprus)

Breastplate of Righteousness

• Are our motivations truly righteous and honoring to God?

• How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s righteousness?

• Are we committed to treating all people rightly, even and especially those who disagree with us?

• If we are in a presbytery that may not be supportive of us, will we always do the right thing in relationship with the presbytery? Are we willing to turn the other cheek and walk the second mile?

Shoes of the Gospel of Peace

• Have we made a legitimate effort to make peace with the denomination?

• Are we committed to being peacemakers in this process?

Shield of Faith

• Will be put our trust in God first and foremost? Or will we put our trust primarily in ourselves? Or in our lawyers?

• Will we offer all that we are to the Lord, including our property?

Helmet of Salvation

• Will we rest secure in the knowledge that we belong to Christ our Savior?

Sword of the Spirit

• Will see be guided by Scripture in all of our deliberations?

• Will we allow Scripture to challenge us as well as to encourage us?

• Will we obey biblical passages that govern relationships within the church? Will we avoid gossip? Will we be quick to reconcile and forgive?

Pray at All Times for all the Saints

• Will we pray faithfully throughout our process of deliberation?

• Will we pray for wisdom for ourselves, for presbytery officials, and for all others involved in this process?

If you’re a practically-minded person, you may find what I’ve just said to be distraction from what really needs to be done. But, given biblical teaching on what is most real, I believe that the most practical thing any church can do when it begins to consider leaving the PC(USA) is to put on the armor of God in tangible ways.

In my next post in this series I’ll consider what comes next.

Topics: PCUSA: Church Property |

4 Responses to “The PC(USA) and Church Property, Part 6”

  1. RevK Says:
    September 22nd, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Bold reminder. Thanks.

  2. J. Falconer Says:
    September 22nd, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Rev Roberts, Thanks again for another terrific post-glad you went into detail. Gives us a lot to think, pray & meditate about today. Have to go to work-now! - necessary necessity Ha Thanks again & keep up the great work!! Blessings, from The Falconers’

  3. Matt Ferguson Says:
    September 22nd, 2008 at 9:43 am


    I believe when you write “In far too many cases, the hearts of church leaders are captured by some demonic power, perhaps unrighteous anger, spite, vengeance, or Mammon.” your intention was to include the leaders in presbyteries as well as the local congregation. But because you start off using “congregation” and then use “church” when talking about a local congregation the rest of the post that statement could be read as being directed at the local congregation’s leaders only. At least that is how I read it at first but then knew you couldn’t mean that. (Of course, it could just be me.)

    Again, I am sure you mean both the local congregation’s leaders and the leaders in the presbytery could have this happen to them.

    Other than that—this is a fantastic post because so often this is overlooked. We are in a spiritual battle that many believers never take time to consider. (Did you know they are making a major motion picture of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters? To be released in 2009. Oh how I wish that book could be re-written into modern English so more could read it with understanding!)

    One last ramble here—will you be commenting in this series on the realignment plan Michael Walker recently posted?

  4. Mark Roberts Says:
    September 22nd, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Matt: Thanks. I’ll add a word of clarification. Your exegesis of my intention was spot on.


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