By Dennis Matyas –
News reached me last week of the closing of a church. This church was a small congregation in a small city that held their fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The news reached me because I was acquainted with it (in an oblique manner) and a few of its members. It had been declining for years, and finally its meager elderly membership could no longer afford the stately old stone building or a full-time pastor.
Far be it from me to throw every Presbyterian under the bus. Some that I have met are really fine people with good hearts. But as an organization, the PC(USA) has historically been focused on issues of social justice over and against the Gospel, and it shows. They began ordaining women in 1965, ordaining homosexuals in 2011, performing same-sex marriages in 2014, and beginning in 2004 they have made several resolutions in their general assemblies that denounce Israel’s right to sovereignty, even making divestment resolutions against them akin to those that ended apartheid in the early 1990’s (drawing wide accusations of anti-Semitism). In 1997 they adopted an agreement of full communion with the ELCA, RCA, and UCC—each of which hold wildly competing theological teachings regarding the Word and sacraments. As a result of these milquetoast confessions and obsessions with the world, membership in the PC(USA) is plummeting faster than a boat without a hull. They themselves report that there are almost twice as many “inactive” members on their rolls as active ones, and over a hundred PC(USA) congregations close their doors forever each year.
As for this particular congregation, while the members I knew were kind and generous neighbors, their timidity over the Word of God produced an organization that offered absolutely nothing to a fallen world besides shallow handwringing and lukewarm feelings. I once sat in unsurprised boredom through a thirty minute eulogy read by the pastor that did not once mention the name of Jesus. Meanwhile, the crowd stared dumbly at a corpse in his open casket, unwilling or unable to admit that they needed the comfort of Jesus Christ. The word “resurrection” would have been completely foreign to them.
What bothered me about the news was not the church’s closure, but the manner in which I heard about it—via Facebook post. The poster lamented the closing of churches and encouraged people to attend a house of worship, because “Well, you can pray anywhere, that is true. But God asks us to come together for worship. He wants us to partake in fellowship and song. It’s important.”
Ironically, churches close precisely because of this understanding of church: “Fellowship and song.” Really? That’s all church is for? Not the reception of God’s Word? Not the pronouncement of forgiveness? Not the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins? Not the washing of sinners in the waters of Holy Baptism? Not the regular, undiluted comfort of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? Not … Jesus Christ crucified and risen? Maybe they just forgot that part.
When I heard of this church’s closing and reflected on the prediction that the PC(USA) as an institution will cease to exist within my lifetime, I was neither surprised nor concerned. This church had long since ceased its preaching of the Gospel in favor of patting itself on the back with coffee and doughnuts. In fact, we regularly pray in public worship that the Lord defend the universal church from false and dangerous doctrines and that he strengthen her with faithful preachers and rightly administered sacraments. So when I hear of the closure of a congregation that did not preach the Gospel, did not administer the sacraments, and did not forgive (or even acknowledge) sins, there can be only one conclusion:
God has answered our prayers. Good riddance to the shameful waste of carved stone. A copse of trees would do better to glorify God in that space than the sidelong ramblings of a heterodox church.
Still, I do not celebrate entirely. The conclusion cannot be pessimistic or triumphant, but pastoral. The tumor can be removed, but chemotherapy still needs to be given. The fact remains that when such a church closes there are de facto wanderers, hurt by a loss they didn’t know they needed. At such a time, these wanderers need to be reached out to in love by those who understand what church is for. They need good food, not good feelings. They need real sacraments, not fake sympathy. They need the Word of God, not the world’s gods. They need Jesus, who has promised to be in worship—where the Word is preached in purity and the sacraments rightly administered. You know where to find these truths. Will you go find and bring those that need them?
Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word; curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the Kingdom from your Son and bring to naught all He has done.