Category Archives: Denominations

How to destroy a Christian denomination

By Spencer D. Gear PhD

Presbyterian Church in USA Logo.svg

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

If your denomination lost 100,000 members in a year, wouldn’t you think that this would be enough of a ‘hint’ to investigate why this is happening?

You may be interested to see the effect of theological liberalism on a denomination. What happens when a denomination gives up its commitment to the integrity of Scripture and seeks another view of the Bible? What is the effect of a denomination giving up its evangelical faith for something else? What happens when a denomination is promoting a politically correct agenda rather than a biblical agenda?

Take a read of what this has done and is doing to the Presbyterian Church (USA): ‘2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations‘. Here you will learn that

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined by more than 100,000 last year, according to the 2012 statistics released recently by the denomination’s Office of the General Assembly. It is the single largest annual membership decline since the PCUSA was formed in 1983….

[Mateen] Elass said that the explanation from Parsons “boils down to two things: 1) All the mainline churches are in decline; the PCUSA is a mainline church; therefore it is in decline. 2) Our culture is increasingly resistant to affiliating with religious institutions — how can we help it if people today don’t want to sign on the dotted line …? Both these reasons, whether true or not, show a desire to excuse the leadership from responsibility rather than a passion to turn things around. There are certain churches that are growing in this environment. Why not study them and invest the denomination’s significant resources in retooling itself to become a more effective proponent of the gospel? Why not return with passion to the heart of the Biblical Gospel rather than giving itself over to causes that are ancillary to the church’s true mission?”

He continued, “On the other hand, the denomination is leaking like a sieve when it comes to membership retention. The number who transferred out to other denominations by certificate was up 126 percent from 2011 (52,064 compared to 23,082). The number lost through ‘other’ means (cleaning the rolls, usually) was up about 4 percent (from 95,613 to 99,067). The only category showing a slight decrease in losses from that of 2011 was in number of deaths. This is small consolation.”

For some diagnoses of what is happening in the PC(USA), take a read of these:
designRed-small The end of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Mark Roberts
designRed-small Fighting the wrong battle in the PCUSA, Calvin Fox
designRed-small The Road to Gay Ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Donald Fortson III
designRed-small 13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA, Andrew Webb

Mateen Elass, a former PC(USA) pastor, gave his assessment in ‘A Long Oblivion in the Same Direction’. Part of his assessment reads:

I have a few suggestions for Gradye and other PCUSA leaders seeking to reach more Americans with the gospel and reverse the decline of the denomination:

1) In the name of racial diversity, invest more effort in reaching out to white Anglo-Saxon Americans. This is still the largest segment of American society, but the group that is fleeing evangelical and mainline churches in largest numbers. On the other hand, failure to do this will at least lead the PCUSA to perhaps reach an expired GA goal of 20% minority membership by 2010. As more WASPs leave the church, and minority numbers hold steady, overall minority percentages will increase dramatically. Not what was originally envisioned, I’m sure, but hey, at least it’s a goal to check off.

2) Since Jesus said to go where the fields were white unto harvest, and since the Pew report indicates that those most likely to affiliate with religious institutions are the politically conservative, begin a top to bottom house-cleaning of social, political and economic endorsements that lean leftward, and replace them with ones that lean right. This will attract those most likely to affiliate and give you a chance to welcome larger numbers into membership. Right now, you’re pitching your message to those least likely to respond. Isn’t that a waste of time and energy?

3) Since the unaffiliated (that fastest growing segment of the younger American population) is turned off by power-grabbing, money-grubbing religious institutions, and since you obviously want to reach this segment of society, rein in all the presbyteries and synods and GA entities that are lording it over individual congregations seeking to leave the PCUSA. Instead of ignoring or secretly encouraging them as they abuse their institutional power to cause as much pain as possible and extract as much money as they can in exchange for permission to legally become part of the body of Christ in another denominational structure, why not remove the property trust clause from the Book of Order, or declare that all churches are free to leave, no strings attached, no fees assessed? Any wishing to stay will do so voluntarily, and all unaffiliateds will see that the PCUSA is in fact not a money-grubbing, power-obsessed institution. Perhaps in observing such Christian grace, they will begin flooding into the new PCUSA.

These suggestions are, of course, made with tongue in cheek, though they each contain a kernel of truth worth considering as the denomination reels with its losses.

For some of my assessment of what happens when theological liberalism invades churches and denominations, see:

blue-satin-arrow-small Is liberal theology heresy?

blue-satin-arrow-small What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

blue-satin-arrow-small Is theology important?

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s deadly Christianity

blue-satin-arrow-small John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s swan song — at last!

blue-satin-arrow-small Why would a Presbyterian denomination reject Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as propitiation?

blue-satin-arrow-small The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

That should be enough to get you thinking about core elements of the Christian faith and what to do about spiritual surgery – cutting out the diseased stuff in any church or denomination.

First Presbyterian Church of Houston

(Courtesy Wikipedia)


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 August 2018.

Christian denominations and the church of the first century?

Episcopal Church (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Does this thought ever flash through your Christian mind, “Is the church of today anything like the church of the first couple of centuries of the Christian era?” Were there clergy? What about church buildings? When did architecture and cathedrals enter Christianity? They’ve entered my mind many times and I’ve concluded that today’s churches and denominations are a country mile from New Testament Christianity.

Yes, we read about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11) but their purpose was to work themselves out of a job as they were designed to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12 ESV). How close is that to what is happening in your church? How many of your pastors/teachers/clergy are spending their lives equipping believers for ministry? Or, how many of them are increasing their power through prominent pulpit or mass media ministries?

We should be brave enough to confront the issues. Has the church worldwide drifted from its biblical goals and purpose? How do the 100 million Christians in China compare with what is happening to churches and denominations in the West? What about the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and in countries such as North Korea? Are these churches closer to the biblical model than in my country of Australia?

One Christian Forum has been pondering this question, “What denomination today is closest to First Century Christianity?” That’s a very good question. There have been many responses.

My own contribution has been that I would choose the house church movement. Any church that exalts the clergy is not, in my view, closest to first century Christianity.

First century Christianity had this approach to what happens when the church gathers:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (1 Cor. 14:26 NIV).

Every member ministry was the norm of the early church. That is not the approach of the Eastern Orthodox Church. But it is what happens in house churches.

There is evidence of churches meeting in homes prior to AD 70. See Acts 2:46-47; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 16:40; 20:7-8, 20; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philemon 2; 2 John 9-11.

The contemporary church is so far removed from this every-member involvement when the church gathers and, sadly, many charismatic-pentecostals are moving away from it when the church gathers on Sunday. Some still maintain this 1 Cor. 14:26 openness to the gifts in small groups.

Why do you think that the church has moved from this norm of what happened in the early church? One standard answer is that many of these gifts have ceased. My understanding of the cessation of these gifts is they will cease when the poor reflection becomes: “We shall see [Him] face to face” and then be fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).  See my articles:

In John Shelby Spong’s book, A New Christianity for a New World (HarperSanFrancisco 2001), he throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement (an “offensive idea”, p. 10) and the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (Spong 2003:3, 64, 74).

Spong’s primary question to answer in this book is: “Can a person claim with integrity to be a Christian and at the same time dismiss, as I have done, so much of what has traditionally defined the content of the Christian faith?” (p. 7)

Jack Spong was no lightweight in the liberal Episcopalian Church in the USA, being bishop of Newark NJ. For Spong to be able to teach and preach such heresy as a bishop in the Episcopalian church is an indicator of the sickness in that denomination. But other denominations have the same problem as I have indicated with some of the Anglicans and Uniting Church in Australia. Take a look at the theological heresy that is taught in the United Church, Canada.

I’m not sure that people are aware of the theological sickness in many denominations that have departed from the faith.

Take a read of John Dominic Crossan’s theology (The Historical Jesus; Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography; Who Killed Jesus? The Birth of Christianity). He taught biblical studies in the Roman Catholic, DePaul University, Chicago, for 26 years.

One person in this thread stated, “I don’t see denominations as a problem. I see them as a solution”. My response is:

Yep, denominations like:

Right! We need denominations like we need a sore head!



Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 January 2017.