By Lewis Willis
John S. Tompkins is a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Time magazine. He recently wrote an article in Reader’s Digest (12-90) describing the widening gulf between denominationalism’s bureaucrats and the people in the pews. It was an alarming article. To understand the significance of what he says, you must realize that Tompkins is a member of the 2.9 million member Presbyterian Church.
He started his article by noting that he was recently given the job of removing his congregation’s old song books and replacing them with the new ones that had just been issued. He said he did the job with “no joy.” He found the new song book had left out “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “Faith of Our Fathers” and “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus.” He said these, and other songs “were censored largely because they were judged too ‘militaristic’ or ‘sexist’ by an 18-member committee.” He said the Presbyterians were not the only ones who had purged their song books. The Unitarian Church has issued an entire booklet containing 51 “gender neutral” songs. He further observed that this is “just one of the many waves of absurdities swamping the traditional Protestant churches.”
Tompkins explained why these changes were being made. Over the last quarter-century the seminaries that provide these churches their leaders have emphasized a “theology that down plays the spiritual.” Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, when invited in 1982 to teach at Harvard Divinity School, found that numbers of his students did not even believe in God. “Many of these graduates are now our professional minister-bureaucrats” who have “gradually taken over the denominations.” James V. Heidinger II, of the Methodists, observed: “Too many in the pews don’t realize it, but a small group has hijacked the churches.” Tompkins wrote, “These people have substituted social, economic and political action for the real business of religion – worship, the study of Scripture, a spiritual vision of life and death, and a code of moral conduct.”
He cites several examples of the effects of this hijacking. He wrote of a self-proclaimed witch who was invited to lecture at a Presbyterian theological seminary in San Francisco, during which she offered prayers to “powers under the earth.” He also noted that the Episcopal Church had issued a manual which seems to condone homosexuality and adultery. Moorehead Kennedy, former U.S. Diplomat and Iranian hostage, has recently written a book in which he said of the churches, “I felt in some groups that I would have a much easier time denying the resurrection than questioning the nuclear freeze.” The article continues, “Congregations have responded to the endless politicking in dramatic fashion – by voting with their feet.”
The Presbyterian Church has lost 31% of its members since 1965. The Episcopal Church has lost 28% of their members. The United Church of Christ is down 20%, and the United Methodists are down 18%. These four denominations have been abandoned by 4.7 million members! The author wrote, “The stark fact is that the mainline churches are dying.” He said that 445 of the 500 fastest growing churches in the country are not mainline denominations.
He told of a visit to an evangelical church in New York recently. “It was a congregation with many young people who brought Bibles with them. The service was informal. We sang two hymns with great enthusiasm, prayed and read from Scriptures. As the minister preached, many took notes on his sermon on the space provided on the bulletin. Clearly, this was a church that expected faith to connect with practical life. I felt at home.” However, he said he didn’t intend to leave the Presbyterians but intended to stay and fight for it.
What do we make of all of this? For many years we have been saying that denominationalism is not the religion of Christ. We have pointed out that they are organized unscripturally, they are not worshiping as they should, they are not teaching the Truth of God, and they are engaged in activities not assigned by Christ to the Church. For the longest time they incorporated enough Scripture into their activities to deceive folks into believing they were right. As they have gone further down the path of denominationalism, even their own members are admitting that they are not of God. A poll was taken before the 1988 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Only 11% of the clergy-delegates said they believed that the Bible is the literal word of God. How could religious movements headed by infidels possibly please God and offer salvation to men? Clearly, we must continue to expose such false religion. The modern denominational clergy has hijacked these churches, but their ancestors in the long ago hijacked people away from God when they set up these unauthorized religious organizations.
We, in Churches of Christ, shall continue to affirm a non-denominational, Bible based religion that calls on people to obey the commandments of the New Testament in all things, and to reject all religious organizations or movements that differ from the New Testament in polity, worship or mission.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 5, p. 142
March 7, 1991