In the world of progressive Christianity, two plus two equals five and a circle is indeed a square. Demonstrating their denial of the law of non-contradiction, within the relativistic world of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PCUSA, losing almost 90,000 members in a single calendar year is not evidence of a dying denomination; it signals that the denomination is reforming. Losing around six percent of the liberal Presbyterian denomination’s membership in twelve months is apparently a good thing, not a bad thing.
In the last four years, the PCUSA has shed around 300,000 members, and the denomination has dipped under 1.5 million members (in 2010, the PCUSA boasted a membership roll of over two million). That’s not an insignificant loss of membership. Based on the current pace, the PCUSA will have less than a million members by 2024. If the trend isn’t halted, the PCUSA could be nonexistent by mid-century.
According to a press release posted on the PCUSA’s webpage, however, the leadership of the denomination have dusted off their rose-colored glasses, and are thankful for the loss of membership. They see it as a good thing.
Responding to the report, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II asserts, “We are not dying. We are reforming.” He supports his claim by pointing out that “despite cries decrying the death of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in many local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world. Our eulogy as a denomination has been written too soon, because God’s kingdom has not yet come.” He added, “We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom.”
Two things stand out about Rev. Nelson’s statement, at the least.
For starters, according to the numbers, the PCUSA is dying. No amount of carefully crafted press releases can alter the fact that the membership roll of the denomination is shrinking at a substantial rate every year. There’s no reason to believe that the trend is going to reverse itself, and that leads me to the second thing.
I’m not sure whom Rev. Nelson is referring to when he claims that his denomination is “well-respected … within Christendom.” Within small “o” orthodox Christendom, accepting things that God calls sinful (affirming same-sex relationships as good while supporting legal abortion, to name two examples) and denying the inerrancy of the Bible are not well-respected theological positions.
In fact, the actions of the PCUSA over the last few decades have brought the once thriving denomination to the brink of apostasy, if it hasn’t already fallen in (I’m trying to be charitable). Followers of King Jesus will never affirm nor respect those who also claim to be followers of Jesus and yet openly and proudly rebel against his words. Speaking of the law of non-contradiction, you can’t claim to be a Christian and then deny the very commands of Jesus.
Once a church or denomination begins to part ways with the Bible, there is very little reason for people to continue attending. The PCUSA isn’t alone in their siphoning of members, though. Across the board, liberal denominations are shrinking at rates that point to their eventual and final demise.
In the landmark book The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark explain in no uncertain terms that whenever churches and/or denominations embrace liberal theology, they lose members and begin the path to eventual irrelevancy. In their book, Finke and Stark write that “to the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper.”
To be clear, I would prefer that the leadership of the PCUSA would repent of their sins, return to a robust (small “o”) orthodox Christianity, and truly reform their denomination for the glory of God; I pray to that end. It’s sad to see once robust churches that unashamedly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ now serve as little more than a progressive social club. Referencing Rev. Nelson’s words, the PCUSA does need a reformation. The churches in the denomination need to once again embrace the objective truths of God’s Word and strive to please Jesus and not rebellious humans.