Left Behind in the Mainline: Witnessing Within Presbyterian Church (USA)

Paul Detterman
The Rev. Dr. Paul E. Detterman, National Director of The Fellowship Community, which was formerly known as Presbyterians for Renewal. |

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series on churches that chose not to leave their respective mainline Protestant denominations despite disagreement with the denominations' changes in theological positions. Read part one here.

The Rev. Dr. Paul Detterman is the national director of The Fellowship Community, formerly called Presbyterians for Renewal. He is among those who have chosen to stay with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) despite its increasing liberal theological stances.

The Fellowship Community is a biblically orthodox group within PCUSA. Detterman told The Christian Post in a recent interview that he and his organization are staying with the PCUSA because "it is a matter of call and of mission."

"We are uniquely equipped to reach out to others in and through the PC(USA) because we know the territory well," said Detterman.

"To leave would be to give up on an entire group of people. Some have been called to move on; we have not."

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and the executive editor of its online publication, told CP that there were two reasons why she remained.

"I continue to hope that God would choose to pour out His Spirit and draw the denomination into a true revival. That would be an incredible witness to the world," said LaBerge.

"The second reason I stay is a sense of calling to bear witness to the Truth revealed in the Bible, to stand firm when others bend to the cultural winds."

LaBerge added that she had "a sense of calling to the people within the PCUSA," who are "like sheep without a shepherd." She said "will not abandon them to the wolves."

presbyterian church gay
In this file photo, delegates listen to the debate at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church meeting Thursday, July 8, 2010, in Minneapolis where the assembly voted to approve lifting the churches ban on ordaining non-celebrate gays and lesbians as clergy. The majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries voted to ratify the amendment to the body's constitution. Votes by the presbyteries were came in throughout the year and on Tuesday, May 11, 2011, became the 87th presbytery and the deciding vote to approve the amendment. |

Fallout From an Amendment

Formed in the 1980s, the PCUSA remains the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. As with other mainline churches, the denomination has garnered much attention for its growing acceptance of homosexuality.

At PCUSA's 219th General Assembly in 2010, a majority of presbyteries, or regional bodies, approved Amendment 10a to the denomination's Book of Order.

Amendment 10a opened the door for presbyteries to allow for the ordination of homosexuals who were in same-sex relationships; in the past, only celibate homosexuals were allowed to hold church positions.

The passage of the amendment was seen as the final straw for many conservative congregations who had seen the PCUSA drift away from traditional theology.

Since the PCUSA General Assembly, the number of congregations voting to disaffiliate from the denomination has increased dramatically, accelerating the already major losses in membership numbers that the national church body has suffered over the past 10 to 15 years.

Detterman outlined his concerns regarding the PCUSA, including the neglecting of accountability and mission within the church.

"People have been allowed to exist in the church with less and less exposure to the clear teaching of the faith or clear expectation of what biblically faithful living looks like," he lamented.

"We are forgetting the reason we exist: to give God all glory, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in words and deeds, and to enjoy God, marveling at His creation and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ."

LaBerge listed her "primary concern" as being her belief that the PCUSA was "intentionally" moving away from biblical orthodoxy rather than it going "aimlessly away from the clear Way and Truth and Life of Jesus."

"If it wandered aimlessly then it could be easily reigned in, redirected and corrected. No, the direction of the PCUSA as I see it, is intentionally away from the Scriptures, intentionally away from God's design and God's will," said LaBerge.

A Question of Finances

For some, the notion of giving monetary support to a church that they disagree with on theological matters may seem perplexing.

A man collects money from donations in a Detroit church in this file photo. |

When CP asked Detterman about possibly giving tithes and offerings to a church that may support anti-biblical ideas, Detterman responded that such does not happen.

"The entities of the PCUSA are working diligently to give congregations and individuals discretionary control over their financial contributions," said Detterman.

Regarding the question of money, LaBerge noted that while the PCUSA has "a per capita budget and divides that budget by the number of members in all its churches, the denomination knows it's not going to receive the full amount."

"Churches cannot be compelled to pay it and presbyteries in turn, often only pass along to higher governing bodies what they've received," said LaBerge.

"So the General Assembly has to write off nearly a million dollars a year in uncollected per capita. However … starving the proverbial beast is not likely to happen. The PCUSA can live off the income of its investments for generations to come."

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