Is There Any Hope for the PCUSA?

January 6, 2012

“The whole creation has been groaning as we wait eagerly for our adoption and the redemption of our bodies”  (Romans 8:22).

Lew Smedes, in My God and I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003):

“…As I have grown old, my feelings about God have tapered down to gratitude and hope. Gratitude is the pleasure of hope come true. Hope is the pain of gratitude postponed. . . .. Hope comes harder, sometimes with our backs against the wall, laden with doubts that what we hope for will ever come. . . . Hope can feel unbearable; when we passionately long for what we do not have and it is taking too long to come, we are restless as a farmer waiting for rain after an August without a drop.
“Still, living by hope can get awfully wearying.”

I am getting weary in hope that God will do something amazing to turn the PCUSA right-side up. The progress God is making within our denomination is often invisible to me, but I know that in congregations throughout the nation, people are coming to Christ, disciples are growing spiritually, the gospel is rightly preached, and the sacraments administered faithfully. But as Lewis Smedes wrote, holding on to hope can get wearying.

When I first thought about hope, I was perhaps influenced by the dictionary definition, which says, “Hope is a desire accompanied by expectation of fulfillment.”  We think of hope as a thing, a destination or a resolution.  If we just keep our eyes on that, then we are keeping hope alive.  But Paul seems to speak of hope as a process of waiting, waiting even accompanied by pain and discomfort. But as we keep our hearts attached to this hope, somehow God brings us into the joyful freedom he promised his creation.  If we know that eventually everything will turn out alright, does that not help us in the present moment of suffering? Paul asks.

When Paul uses the word “hope,” he has in his mind the inevitability of God’s final resolution of all that is wrong with humanity and creation. Hope is the belief that yes, indeed, God will provide, God will resolve, God will remedy, and God will reconcile everything in himself.  In the meantime, we wait for it patiently.

It was on one overwhelming day (actually, the middle of the night when sleep was impossible) that God helped me see a personal, difficult situation from an entirely different vantage point.  I saw vividly, because I was experiencing it, the anguish that God felt toward his children.  The torment I felt in this situation was only a shadow of the grief God is feeling toward the world’s waywardness, and even more specifically toward my pride and ingratitude, my disobedience over my lifetime.  Remember in Genesis, after Cain kills Abel and wickedness overtakes humanity?  It says in chapter 6, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).  God felt hopeless, or at least extremely disappointed!  So, I asked myself, if God has gotten that discouraged about his creation, what keeps him going?  What enables God to continue relating to us, loving us, and wooing us to himself?  It is hope!

Then it struck me that hope is God’s basic outlook.  What motivated God’s creation of the world and of humanity was hope!  He made us in great hope that we would relate to him and receive what he had to offer.  He anticipated a mutual, loving relationship that would be deeply satisfying to us and fulfilling of God’s loving nature.  So, even though Adam and Eve decided against trusting in God and putting their hope in him alone, God continued to hope that they would be reconciled to him.  It was an act of hope on God’s part to evict them from the Garden of Eden—why?  Because if they had been allowed to stay there, now knowing both good and evil, they could have eaten from the tree of life and been forever trapped in an alienated state, out of God’s reach and fellowship.  This would have been hopeless, so God sent them out of the Garden and set in motion the hopeful strategy for redeeming them and bringing them back to him. 

The psalmists repeatedly encouraged us to “put our hope in God.”  That is, to yearn for what God desires, to have faith that what can’t be seen yet is still a future reality.  The point is, hope resides in God:  the very feeling, the very outlook, the very faith God wants us to experience is found in him!  He embodies this hope and he invites us to identify with his hope.

So when we feel hope is gone, we are called upon to turn again to God and hitch our hopeless wagon to his.  He is the one who is hoping the PCUSA will turn around.  He, even more than we, is anxious for the church to discover its life and to put its trust in him. When we put our hope in God, we are hoping for what God is hoping for, which is nothing short of repentance, reorientation, and restoration of our relationship with him.  As long as we insist that we know better than God about things like sexuality, we are going to be burdened in hopelessness and frustration.  We were not created to live apart from God’s design for us. As Paul says in Romans 8, God hopes for our liberation from bondage.  God hopes for the day when we experience the true freedom that comes with being his children. 

As long as God is hopeful, God is still acting.  And as long as God is still at work, there’s still a remedy available to the Presbyterian Church.  And if the remedy is offered and God’s grace is irresistible, then the Church—with an undivided mind and heart—will someday be able to find unity in him again.  When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are expressing our hope that God will make his presence known to all who need to see him.

So, Paul’s benediction seems particularly appropriate on this Feast of the Epiphany:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).  Amen.



9 Responses to “Is There Any Hope for the PCUSA?”

  1. Ron Says:

    I’ve never heard these passages preached on, but I think they reflect the first response of hope that you speak about.

    Genesis 4:
    [1] Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

    [25] And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” [26] To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. ESV

    The fact that scripture clearly says Adam and Eve conceived with the “help of the LORD” and “God has appointed for me”, and that “people began to call upon the name of the LORD” shows that immediately after the fall they had turned back towards God.

    This is a comfort that we like wise can have hope to see the Church turn back to God.

    Reading the rest of the Bible tells us how difficult it is to walk this narrow path.

  2. Grandpa Brad Says:

    It is an odd metaphor that I experienced before hearing a seminary professor explain hope as a noun, specifically a nautical reference . . . an anchor. Hope is the (solid) anchor of the soul whose chain reaches from the center of Heaven’s throne to the depths of the ocean. Once in my life hope came alive in a silly little hymn that broke into the moment with unshakable peace. Once again into my life when I was angry with God over in a moment of despair strong enough to accuse God of not looking out for me. Truly a peace beyond understanding.
    In this turbulance of PCUSA struggle I mourn deeply the gale swirling around us but not without the confidence that God is working His own purposes into our lives. It calms me to experience such confidence.

  3. Perhaps, the changes you are looking for do not present themselves becasue you a looking through evangleical/conservative/fundy glasses. It’s OK, but give those of us who wear other glasses and hear other Words the right to proclaim them as God’s truth as well.

  4. Dr. Mike Says:

    Is there any hope for the PC(USA)? In a word: NO. I pastor a church that has just left this apostate denomination and I can tell you that whatever else the PC(USA) may have been in the past, it is no longer what I and many others consider a “Christian” denomination.

    As we were negotiating a buy out of OUR OWN property, it became obvious that we were not dealing with men (or women) of God but with businessmen and lawyers concerned only with how much money they could squeeze out of us and not with the will of God.

    The really strange thing about our presbytery leaders was that they continually referred to their “precious” Book of Order as “the contract.” This seems to be how they view the relationship between local churches and presbyteries, not a loving and mutually supportive relationship, but a legal one, based not on Biblical principles but on “the contract,” which they can change (do do change) all the time. Rather pathetic.

    These people pay lip service to the Word of God but have no regard for its application. They twist the meaning of Scripture to suit their own strange doctrines of (im)morality, all the while leading their members astray.

    The only hope for the PC(USA) is that God will deal with them mercifully for the damage they have inflicted upon His Name, their congregations and the terrible false teachings they have burdened their members with.

    • Pastor Peter BD Says:

      Dr. Mike, read the Book of Order under which you were ordained! It clearly says that a congregation’s property is held in trust by the presbytery on behalf of the whole church, understood to the body of Christ. And please, don’t call my beloved church apostate. It is highly offensive to me! If you do not like the direction that this part of Christ’s church is taking, go ahead a leave. Go ahead and be part of another boat in Christ’s great fleet. But please, stop offending my faithfulness, and stop dismissing the integrity of the church that ordained you to ministry.

      • Dr. Mike Says:

        God ordains men to His ministry; no human agency does that (see Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others as examples). All man does is confirm what God has already done. My loyalty is first and foremost to God’s Word, which never changes, not to the man-made doctrines of a Book of Order, which seems to change all the time. It’s hard to be faithful to a document so flawed it has to be updated and changed every so many years. Granted, I’ll support any church document, but only as long as it is subordinate to the Word in practice, not just on paper.

        I and my church did crawl out of the husk of the PCUSA earlier this year. Brother, I can respect your staying put, although I cannot fathom why. But, really, to say your “beloved church” (I assume you mean denomination) has not become apostate is to either deny the definition of the word, or to be oblivious to that which so many of your peers have discovered to be true. In any case, I wish you luck.

  5. Roland Day Says:

    Please remember that we believe in a God of three persons – a triune God. The third person of God is the Holy Spirit – our Counselor.

    Presbyterians, guided by the Holy Spirit, are abandoning the apostate PCUSA in droves. The membership drops by about 3 percent each and every year. The denomination, which once counted about 4.5 million members is now down to about 1.9 million members with no end of the losses in sight. This means that, on average, each congregation loses 5 to 6 members per year.

    God, working through the Holy Spirit, is dealing with the PCUSA. We must remember that Jesus said:

    “15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

    The PCUSA is a branch of the Christian church that does not bear fruit. It has not abided in Christ, so it is, little by little, being thrown into the fire and burned. Other branches (denominations), however, those that bear fruit, are flourishing.

    There is every indication that the PCUSA will continue its decline and eventually wither away and be thrown into the fire and burned. We see a similar pattern in the equally apostate Episcopal Church.

    • Pastor Peter BD Says:

      Let us not forget that many disciples of Christ deeply want to join in leadership of the PC(USA), but for reasons that continue to confound me, they are unwelcome at our tables.

      Indeed, let’s be honest about another reason why our denomination is shrinking: our polity prevents us from welcoming into the church those whom Christ has called and many in the church dearly want to ordain.

      So, which log is bigger? The one in my eye, or the one in yours?

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