PRESBYTERIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICE

News Bulletin #30-01 June 17, 2002

An Elder Statesman on the State of the Church

The Rev. Dr. Ben Wilkinson, one of the original ministers of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), has issued a statement regarding the current state of the church. It is a stinging indictment of all parties in the denomination, but especially focuses its fire on the Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network (PPLN).

The statement says that the PPLN material "could have been written by someone from the PC(USA), THE REFORMED CHURCH OF AMERICA, OR FROM THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, or of a more fundamentalist position. It is many words that say little about truth, or to explain or give direction to our desperate culture and religious world that has no truth or direction. That, in my opinion is eternally dangerous. People can interpret the words in any way they desire. Like play dough, it's a lot of words, but no backbone or strengthening structure. . . . I am deeply disappointed to see that the denominational officialdom and many dear brothers through the years surrendering their minds and wills to this all inclusive mess of pottage." The document also charges that following the PPLN path will lead the church to liberalism and neo-orthodoxy.

Dr. Ben, as he is affectionately known, has long been identified with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF), one of the organizations that called for the formation of what is now the PCA. He succeeded Bill Hill as executive director of PEF in 1973, and served in that capacity for 22 years. He has long had a heart for the inner city, and he spearheaded the formation of the Synod of the City, a quasi-ecclesiastical, multi-ethnic, trans-denominational ministry in Greater Atlanta. He is organizing pastor for Rock of Ages Presbyterian Church, Atlanta. From fifteen ministry places associated with Rock of Ages, he and his co-workers distribute bread and the Word to an estimated 3000 to 4000 weekly.

Dr. Wilkinson's statement in its entirety follows.

I have been working through a copy of the PPLN material. My reaction is that it could have been written by someone from the PC(USA), THE REFORMED CHURCH OF AMERICA, OR FROM THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, or of a more fundamentalist position. It is many words that say little about truth, or to explain or give direction to our desperate culture and religious world that has no truth or direction. That, in my humble opinion, is eternally dangerous. People can interpret the words in any way they desire. Like play dough, it's a lot of words, but no backbone or strengthening structure. Let the readers make their own structure. I am deeply disappointed to see that the denominational officialdom and many dear brothers through the years surrendering their minds and wills to this all-inclusive mess of pottage.

The PCA fathers were clear and precise in their intentions in 1973. Strict subscription was not a major discussion in the formative meetings. It was probably clear in Morton Smith's mind and some of his students, but not in most of us. I did not understand the meaning of the words 'strict subscription' until the detailed discussions after the PCA was born. As a preaching evangelist, I grew after the formation of the PCA to a stricter subscription to the doctrines of Holy Scripture that are expressed in the Westminster Standards. Most of us came to the PCA because of an evangelistic concern, and to a bold affirmation of the inerrancy, infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture in all areas of faith and life. Today men are affirming those doctrines loudly and then ignoring their applications and implications in their decisions and ministry. Soon it will be a battle to reinterpret what they mean. Then careful doctrine became important. Many of us had not worked through the meaning and application of the Reformational doctrines as the writers of the Confession had given us. Because of the change (from the PCUS to PCA) and the discussions immediately afterward, many, myself included, got back to studying the doctrinal issues. It brought back strength and courage to some weak evangelical thinking and preaching. It is a bother to me that the PPLN brothers have not captured this and made it their own since they are positioning themselves as tomorrow's leaders. Many of us had hoped that we in the PCA would become a Church of Compassionate, Holy people; courageous Proclaimers of Truth on every area of life that The Word of God speaks. As a whole we have not. We have captured the 'User friendly approach' in our worship, teaching, discipline, writing, community outreach; and Church policies. The old neo-orthodox methodology of Biblical interpretation appeals to us. One result-Leaders offered a 'take your choice from the bag of views' of Biblical creation because we in our culture had already been infected to academic compromise by public education's prophets of evolution. We were unwilling to accept simply what God said in His Word though many scientists did and have found their scientific affirmations in its light.

Brothers, where I serve in Inner City Atlanta, this sort of watered down approach does not change lives. It doesn't even get ministers to think seriously about bringing the gospel into such Hell-holes. And the truth is, it is not impacting to godly change secular culture where most PCA people feel safe enough to serve. Abortion continues to grow, drunkardness and drugs are the relaxation of choice, pre-marital pregnancies are not only in the Hell-holes of the City, violence is not just Islamic Terrorist, 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM murder reports are not just from inner city police reports, but suburban daily accounts. Divorces have not gone down in our churches but up-some misapplied the user friendly philosophy, I fear. We cannot and will not see changed lives, vibrant Covenant families and Holy living, with such benign presentments in suburbia. Don't come down here and disappoint and confuse the struggling poor, the long downtrodden, the hurting, the addicted, the violent, the sensual searchers in inner city. We don't need that problem also. Don't cry Hope if you have an uncertain Sound of Truth to tell. Keep that-better yet, chuck that. We need some certain, strong truth declared and lived. Here in Inner City where I serve they won't buy that User Friendly Jive, and There in Suburbia they won't move to that unholy discordant tune. All over, our nation has been and is running wildly askew. I too believe God withdrew from us on 9/11 His holy protection and let the ungodly have his way for a time. Only a message of Hope, born in a Sovereign God's Irresistable arresting Grace with unwavering doctrinal underpinnings is adequate to challenge those under Satan's decided influence. For the Fathers of the PCA of the last 40 years and today, for this sinner saved by grace, Ben Wilkinson, Uncompromised Reformational Biblical Truth is the major issue. It pains me that it appears my beloved brothers with high responsibility have not picked up that Truth and surrendered everything to IT. Brothers, you will never be loved by everybody, but you will be loved by God and His chosen people! Come, Dear Brothers, and humbly make them your own. He and His Reformational Truth are worth living for, worth proclaiming, and if necessary worth dying for.

In reading these PPLN papers with other papers and the statements they are making, I can't see clearly where they are going. But I do know where the end of their path will go. Understand, I don't think most of them want to go liberal. But that is where this path will take them and us if we go with them. They are afraid of the Theonomists and their loss of the Prime Mission of evangelism. They are afraid of the Strict Subscriptionists, with legitimate exceptions, and their non-compassionate exclusiveness. They see little life and conversions in these. They see debates and argumentation and little love in these. Certainly this emphasis is not the way of our Lord and His Word. But I am equally afraid of those who are all inclusive. Not all Church people are among the Elect of our loving compassionate Lord. We left such an all-inclusive group in 1973, but the trap is so subtle and so attractive and easy to embrace in Neo-orthodoxy's interpretive method and its soft appeal. Then Liberalism seems for a period on the surface so intellectually stimulating and caring. Romanism courts those moving in that direction to become a part of the mammoth World-Wide Church with a billion plus. With PPLN dreaming millions for the PCA, Rome will not be such a large leap and we can be in One Great Body claiming billions plus. Small is not sacred, but large at any cost in losing.

I want to see multitudes in His New Abundant Eternal Life of those whom He has chosen and irresistibly calls to Himself through faith in our Lord Jesus. I want to see as many as God will bring to Himself in the PCA-but not as ministers, officers and members who are so 'user friendly' conscious that they are afraid to boldly confront with compassion any persons at any time and any place with His caring truth and boldly challenge the damned who lead our culture down a broad and wide way to misery and Hell. For these reasons I fear the user friendly positions carefully constructed into the PPLN documents I have been reading.

We serve the Lord in a dangerous day. In my lifetime I have seen the true vibrant church world wide take on a new mark for this age. It is the mark of uncompromising truth and vitality-"Martyrs" (martus). We of the PCA must prepare to turn our backs on the mark of 'user friendly' and receive the mark of willing Martyrs, as God decrees. That should not sound strange or melodramatic. It was our Lord Jesus, in Hiw last words on leaving His church for whom He had died to make new full mediatorial responsibilities in Heaven at the Father's right hand. He said to them, "you shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and you shall be martyrs, witnesses unto blood, unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and unto the ends of the earth." Note, dear brothers of the PPLN and all across the PCA, He said "MARTYRS"! That must be a true mark of His church in our time . . . for the PCA . . . and the church to the ends of the earth . . . not 'User Friendly.'