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By Jeff Gissing (@jeffgissing)
The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently released the findings of its “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011” (the report). More than 6,000 clergy and members of the PC (USA) were asked to participate in the study for a three-year period. The goal was to sketch a broad landscape of the denomination in demographic and theological terms. The report is available here in its entirety. In many respects the report is grim reading. In fact, it points to the coming collapse of the PC (USA)—demographic and theological realities will force the denomination to accept a new, diminished future.
The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the PC (USA) is old and white. 94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian,” as did the randomly selected Ruling Elders. Of clergy, 91% of pastors and 89% of specialized ministers (chaplains, professors, etc) reported their race as white. For all categories of respondent, more than 90% were born U.S. citizens. The study notes, most alarmingly, that the racial-ethnic makeup of the denomination has remained virtually unchanged in the last forty years. This discontinuity makes the future of the denomination untenable since it has not reached either immigrant communities or people of color in any meaningful way. While there are flickers of light in the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative, it seems to be rather too late for this to significantly offset coming losses.
The denomination also continues to age. The median age of members rose from 60 to 63 between 2008 and 2011. That means that if you were to list the ages of each of the member respondents, half of them would be older than 63 and half younger. The number is similar—62—for ruling elders. The report also indicates that almost 50% of church members are not employed, while only 7% of members report being “full-time homemakers.” Could it be that almost half of our church members are retired? Perhaps the PC (USA) should be called the AARP at prayer?
Pastor median age is 55 whereas for specialized ministers it is 57. As a point of comparison, the median age of the United States (as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau) is 36.8, a significant difference. If we isolate for race and report only non-Hispanic whites, the median age is still only 42.3.
This does not bode well for the future. Over the last forty years, the make up of our nation has changed considerably. That this change is all but absent in the profile of the PC (USA) suggests that it has been unable to effectively carry out the very essence of its stated mission—bearing witness to the kingdom of God in there here and now—which includes both ethnic and age diversity under the gospel.
What does the report show us about the devotional practices of members and clergy of the PC (USA)? 80% of pastors reported praying privately “daily/almost daily.” For members the number was less, 56%. It is, of course, difficult to discover a cause for this lack of attention to prayer. I’m sure there are numerous reasons, but it is alarming to think that one of the chief means of grace is so absent in the life of church members and even clergy.
The church is also not attending well to Scripture. Only 39% of members report reading the Bible weekly. For ruling elders the number is higher—49%. This is a serious problem. Where professed Christians are failing in the practice of prayer and of reading the Scripture, we can be sure that a sense of “cheap grace” will also be present. Scripture and prayer—both individually and corporately—shape us to follow Christ. Where they are absent, or unattended to, other voices and influences will exert power to form us.
K a i a o
The Lord will enlighten
“For as the rain comes down and the snow falls from heaven, and returns not again,
but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, and gives seed to the sower
and bread to the eater; so shall my Word be that goes forth out of my mouth:
it shall not return unto Me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it”
Isa 55: 10 –11
Without the foundation of God’s revelation, all the extraordinary philosophies of
men and even all their concepts of God, though anchored in excellent thoughts which
motivate to buildup and serve man in noble pursuits and works, shake out to be
nothing more than what Dietrich Bonheoffer defines as “Cheap Grace.”
“Cheap grace” is the transaction of forgiveness without requiring repentance, the
transaction of baptism without suffering discipline, the transaction of communion
without confession. “Cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without the
cross, and grace without Jesus Christ. “Cheap grace” emphasizes the benefits of
Christianity without the costs involved. The distinctions and emphasis are on temporal
benefits rather than eternal; hence, the adjective cheap to describe it.
“Cheap grace” is like a coat which you can choose to put on or to take off so as to
insure that the prevailing protocol is properly observed and sentimentality is preserved.
“Cheap grace” often attempts to equate sentimentality with sentiment. However,
there is a difference between sentiment and sentimentality. Sentiment deals with one’s
intuitive perception while sentimentality deals with one’s empathic desires; following
interest which may be real, imagined, or preconceived in pursuit of welfare for self or
some other; frequently in quest of self-improvement and behavioral modification
through affirmation which focuses on personal benefits. Hence for all comers, it
promotes testimonies of positive results socially, economically and morally. Sine qua
non: consequently “Cheap grace” is benefit oriented; emphasizing good feelings.
It is critical to understand, no one can be eternally stirred by human motivation
emphasizing good feelings; trapped in our environmental and temporal circumstances,
feelings cannot be sustained. We can only be eternally stirred by a personal crisis with
God – a crisis in which our equilibrium is disturbed; a type of “spiritual vertigo.”
Once disturbed by a crisis with God, our subsequent conceptions of life must be
taken from the convictions stirred by the crisis; which if allowed will guide and sustain
our sentiment as we cry holy, holy, holy; thus giving glory to God (1Cor. 10:31).
God does not deal with us on the basis of sentimentality; rather He enlivens our
sentiments only on the basis of truth by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13).
Unlike the specialists seen parading throughout all other worldly pursuits, the
apostles Paul and John strips away the notion that there are specialists in Christian
thinking; they say, “No, the Holy Spirit is the One Teacher” (1 Cor. 12:8; 1 John 4:6).
As saints we recognize that to live in the world the Holy Spirit is a very real
necessity, who must operate in our lives. Yet we often fail to recognize the need to
draw upon the resources of the Holy Spirit for all areas of our thinking; from the
sublime to the mundane – yes and even to the ridiculous.
When the Holy Spirit is received and allowed to come in, He teaches a saint’s
disposition to initiate and respond by intuition (which operates in the same sphere as
natural intuition) though with the added constituent and providence of His active input
and stirring. The significance is an instant perception of truth or fallacy without
reasoning or analysis; this is His wisdom imputed from obedience to God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit curbs and checks both natural and spiritual intuition until He
brings a saint’s intuition into accord with what Jesus meant when He said, “My sheep
hear my voice” (John 10:27).
A saint must equally recognize that preaching is a snare; the snare is that which
at any moment it may cause the saint to “fallout” of touch with God. Preaching is
simply meant to rouse up the saints so they shall face the truths revealed in God’s
Word as witnessed to them by the Holy Spirit. Preaching delivered by the Holy Spirit is
not intended to be either impressive or to display a saint’s aptitude and proficiency.
Providentially the Lord offers us His direction and we are free to choose, ye or ne;
yet He never forgets us in our choices or abandons us in our labors whatsoever.
The extraordinary reality of God is that He never safeguards His own truth; He
conveys the revelations of His Word as it is intended; to accomplish His purpose to
prosper, and yet allows it to be easily misrepresented; His only test is the Holy Spirit
who anoints and leads the saint into all truth.
Only as the saint obeys the Spirit and keeps in the light does the anointing abide.
Our thinking and commonsense reasoning must be rigorously subordinated to the
Spirit. And if the saint abides in Him, He regenerates the character (and the damage
sin has done to conscience and mind) and keeps the thinking vital and true.
Paul declares, “I pummel my body and make it a slave and keep it under control,
least after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
The Holy Spirit imputes into the saint’s intuition the true stamp of the right
interpretation which is not fantastic or peculiar, nor does it twist the brain, but allows
the saint to know “How marvelously simple and beautiful truth is; as believed through
the revelation of God’s wisdom by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11, John 14:26).
By the Word He has prepared, it will accomplish and prosper in grace, righteousness,
mercy and justice whereto He has sent it – independent of whatsoever choice
may be made.
Therefore, whatever the choice, all are without excuse! The only reality of
freedom’s foundation is by the Word He has prepared. God makes no defense for it;
and none of His creatures can avoid it, alter it, supplant it or supersede it by any
excuse or rational whatsoever.
By faith we know GOD is with us. Yet faith that is sure of itself is not faith. But
faith that is sure of God, is the only faith there is. This faith is not confirmed by works,
evidence of verification or anyone’s approval. It is an expression of the fruit of the
Spirit; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness
and self-restraint. Love is the Spirit fully alive in the heart, and self-restraint is the
heart fully alive in obedience to IMMANUEL. The other 7 are the expressions of the
resident of Christ in us the hope of glory.
It should be understood that these are only thoughts formed from the intuitive
experience of flawed creatures of God many of whom choose to be in His presence but
unfortunately many of whom are not; who boast in their inspiring philosophies that
undoubtedly have and continue to motivate but will not recreate the heart, soul and
spirit of man, unless the Spirit of Jesus Christ indwells the heart, soul and spirit.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom.
“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
How is America doing in this regard?
Bonhoeffer was firmly and rightly convinced that it is not only a Christian right but a Christians duty towards God to oppose tyranny, that is, a government which is no longer based on natural law and the law of God.
July 23, 2013 (Breakpoint) – Fr. Thomas Vander Woude, pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Virginia, has a special place in his heart for children born with Down syndrome. His recent parish campaign to save one such life grabbed headlines. But to understand this story, and why these children are so special to Fr. Vander Woude, you need to know another story. This one blew me away.
Earlier this month, Fr. Vander Woude got wind of a young couple in another state whose unborn child had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The couple made the decision close to ninety percent of parents in their shoes make—to abort their special needs baby. Because the pregnancy was almost six months along, they had just days before the legal cutoff for abortions in their state. But Father Vander Woude had other ideas.
He contacted the parents and convinced them to hold off just a little longer, while he and a volunteer sent messages via the church’s social network accounts, pleading for a family willing to adopt the baby and save its life.
The next morning, the calls and emails began—over 900, in fact—some from as far away as England and The Netherlands, ready to make the life-changing decision to adopt a special needs child. As the torrent subsided, three of the families were placed in contact with the expectant parents and an adoption agency for interviews.
You would think this outpouring of love and acceptance for a child nine out of ten American couples consider unworthy of life would impress pro-choicers—especially those who repeat the tired accusation that pro-lifers care only about children in the womb, not after they’re born.
Well, I’m sad to say pro-abortion activists at the blog Jezebel wasted no time in heaping scorn on Father Vander Woude and the hundreds who responded to his call. One Jezebel blogger accused him of pressuring this woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy by “crowdsourcing an adoptive family.”
“[A]nti-abortion folks,” she cedes, “care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies.”
Folks, these charges are simply ridiculous, especially now that pregnancy care centers designed to offer help and create options for women and children in crisis outnumber abortion clinics in the United States almost 2-to-1, and with so many families lining up to adopt.
But this particular accusation that Father Vander Woude and his Twitter followers care nothing about older children with Down syndrome rings especially hollow. You see, this priest isn’t the first person in his own family to snatch a victim of Down syndrome from certain death.
His father, Thomas, Sr., died in 2008 after leaping into a septic tank to save his youngest son, Joseph, who had fallen in. According to sources at the time, Thomas, 66, allowed himself to sink beneath the sewage while holding 20-year-old Joseph above his head until rescuers arrived. Joseph has Down syndrome. His father died so that his special needs son would live.
It seems Fr. Vander Woude, who officiated his dad’s funeral, inherited a pro-life view that is not just intellectually true, but one of action. His father would be proud.
The groundswell of families who responded to this plea for adoption are putting feet to their pro-life views, while at the same time showing how wildly out-of-touch with reality abortion apologists have become.
This story also reveals how we might hope to return what Pope Benedict called a “culture of death” to a “culture of life.” It requires doing and saying. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote to his former seminarians, “Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of the living.”
Ultimately, it was the allegiance which he owed to God and his master which forced upon him the terrible decision, not merely to make a stand against National Socialism (all the underground movements in the German-occupied countries did that), but also–and this in contradistinction to all the underground movements which appealed to nationalism–to work for the defeat of his own country, since only thus could Germany as a Christian and European country be saved from extinction. For this very reason Bonhoeffer and his friends were tortured, hanged and murdered. It was Bonhoeffer and his friends who proved their resistance unto death that even in the age of the nation-state there are loyalties which transcend those to state and nation.
No doubt Bonhoeffer was a great patriot and he loved his country so much that he preferred death to safety. But he was also too astute a political analyst not to see that Germany would be engulfed in the coming catastrophe. The fanatical devilish forces within National Socialism left no alternative. They were aiming at the destruction of Germany as a European and Christian country. By planned political action he hoped to avoid this tragic disaster. As he used to say: it is not only my task to look after the victims of madmen who drives a motorcar in a crowded street, but to do all in my power to stop their driving at all.
These men were in truth the upholders of the Europeans and Western tradition in Germany, and it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who more than anybody else realized that nothing less than a return to the Christian faith could save Germany. The failure of these men was not only a tragedy for Germany, but for Europe as a whole, and historians may well come one day to the conclusion that the consequences of this failure cannot be made good.