The State of the Good “Ship” Presbyterian

Interior of the Presbyterian Cathedral in downtown Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Editorial credit: Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com

By: The Anonymous Presbyterian 

The Harbor of Protestantism is a great and historic harbor filled with too many ships to count. But, there are a few prominent ships worthy of mention. Two of the immediate ones that catch the eye are the ships “Baptist” and “Charismatic.” They are similar in several ways. They are both very large ships, and neither of them is in the best condition, having recently returned from battles at sea.

The Baptist ship is the biggest ship in the Protestant Harbor. The Baptist ships have the largest crews, which, of course, is a matter of great pride to the Baptist captains.

The Baptists have an unusual strategy for ship growth. It is basically to go to sea with the plan, not to destroy enemy ships, but to convince as many as possible of the enemy crew members to jump ship and join their ship. Over time, they have had relative success in fulfilling their recruitment quotas. They have, by far, the best recruiting office in the harbor.

Near the Baptist ship in the harbor is the ship “Charismatic.” This is a somewhat unusual ship because it doesn’t quite resemble a ship, but, indeed, it is a ship. In the Protestant Harbor, there is an accepted standard as to what a ship should look like, but the Charismatic captains don’t usually follow that tradition, preferring to find whatever old ship they can, change its name, add some guns, and head out to sea.

There is usually a lot of excitement on the ship Charismatic. While many of the other ships have a standard manual of ship operations, the Charismatic ship doesn’t bother with one. They have a sense of guidance that they claim comes from inspiration from the “Great Naval Commander,” a kind of inner knowledge directing them how to steer their ship. Sometimes they are successful, other times, not so much.

One thing very commendable about the crew on ship Charismatic is that they are taught to engage. When the call to battle sounds, they show and deploy. Their ship always seems to be at sea and, yet, always seems to be in harbor for repairs.

Careful observers of the Protestant Harbor also note that there are the ships which have never returned. These tend to be the older ships that were once great in their day and very faithful to the Great Naval Commander but, who, over time, abandoned the instructions from the Old Book of Ships only to start taking on water, sinking to the depths.

GOOD SHIP PRESBYTERIAN

There is another ship which always seems to capture the eyes of those in the harbor. It is called the Good Ship Presbyterian. It often gets long stares and much admiration because of its beauty. Its lines are precise, and the paint is perfect with no sign of the usual wear and tear of ships. Everyone notices how beautifully it glimmers and how well it is maintained.

Passerby also notice the crew. Even though the crew is not large, everyone is dressed impeccably with everything in order. It is by far the most organized ship because its captain has the best ship manual of all the ships. From captain to crew, the manual is memorized and observed.

The crew is also very knowledgeable about the Old Book because the captains teach the Old Book page by page. They know the Old Book better than all the other captains in the harbor. However, among their instructions, special emphasis is given on how to avoid conflict at sea.

Upon closer look, one notices two things about the Good Ship Presbyterian. This old great warship has been refitted into a passenger ship and the ship is being painted again. It seems that part of their tradition is to give the ship a new paint job every year, whether it is needed or not.

One detail about this beautiful ship that its captains never discuss is that the Good Ship Presbyterian has never been out to sea. It has been in dry dock for nearly a century and a half.

Those from other ships fret, “When will that Good Ship Presbyterian ever go out to sea?” Despite the talk, the Presbyterian captains don’t worry, for they are quite happy being in dry dock and spending their days organizing, discussing, and admiring the beauty of their ship.

So the Presbyterian captains, free from worry about naval battles and strategies of war, spend much of their time studying their ship manual. The captains love teaching the manual to their crew. The Presbyterian captains also hold many conferences and seminars about ship building, ship theory, and ship history. No one has a better ship instruction program than the Presbyterian captains.

Occasionally, on the Good Ship Presbyterian, some crew members start grumbling, wondering, “When are we ever going to put out to sea?” The captains respond by reminding the crew that their place in the Harbor of Protestantism is to study and teach ship building, and not to go out to sea. They also remind them that this time next year, the ship will need another coat of paint.

So the years slip by and the Good Ship Presbyterian is still looking good, in dry dock, under permanent maintenance.

WITHOUT HOPE

The captains of the Presbyterian ship are also hesitant to take the ship out to sea because deep down they believe they will not prevail against enemy ships, so they would prefer to stay in the harbor where they are safe.

In fact, they have taught their crew that they and the rest of the Protestant ships will never win the great battle at sea, so they comfort the crew with the elevated call of ship maintenance. In their many meetings, the captains come up with new plans and encourage the crew to do a better job of cleaning and maintaining the already well preserved ship.

This they do while knowing full-well of all the great historical victories at sea of the older Presbyterian ships. They also know well that in the Old Book of Ships, the Great Naval Commander has declared over and over again how His ships in time and history will win against the evil and rebellious ships. But, despite the Old Book and their own history, the present captains do not believe their Great Commander will prevail so they take refuge in the harbor hoping to be left alone.

SELF EXAMINATION

I assume that by now the reader gets the drift of this parody. As a conservative Presbyterian, I appreciate much of our faith and history and have no plans of abandoning ship. But at the same time, I think it is healthy for each ship in the Protestant Harbor to do some self-examination and critique their own ships’ state of affairs. Thus my parody of The State of the Good Ship Presbyterianism.

A Reformed friend describes modern conservative Presbyterianism, stating: “if it is not neat, clean and predictable, they will not involve themselves with it.”

He wonders if the present Presbyterian leadership would have sided with Luther, Zwingli, and Farel in the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century. He thinks that they would have stayed on the side-lines because the battle was too messy, too difficult, and having no assurance of victory. I believe he is correct. There is today within conservative Presbyterian leadership a real and visible timidity to take their faith and engage it in life and culture.

 ABSTRACTION OVER APPLICATION

So much of the fault comes from the Presbyterian pulpit. Its modern ministers would much rather teach their people abstract theological concepts than touch on the issues of life where people live. Sunday after Sunday consists of methodically going through the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, in an expositional study, comparing one Bible verse to another, but the people leave with no application and little instruction on how to live, and much less on how to take their faith into the culture and change the world to the glory of God.

A friend from Tennessee says of his conservative Presbyterian church: “If someone had sat in our church pew for the last 15 years, he would be unable to tell from our pulpit that our church is against homosexuality.” How a Protestant minister avoids addressing such a subject in our time is beyond comprehension.

So, year after year, none of the important issues in the members’ lives and in culture are ever addressed from the pulpit. Homosexuality, the evils of the government education system, compromise of our Christian women by the feminist movement, Christian worldview, Biblical commands for large families, family order, debt, etc., are all avoided. The same is true for the worldview issues of the Biblical role of civil government, sexuality, economics, and unjust wars. All and more are never touched.

The congregations are left to read on their own and find out God’s will on these very important subjects because they are unable to get instruction from their own pulpit. The people come starving for direction from their pastors for their lives, families, and the greater church, but leave with little morsels of spiritual abstraction.

Presbyterian ministers must remember that Jesus commended the faithful servant with, “well done”, not “well said.” In the Kingdom of God, obedience trumps knowledge.

ENGAGE, ENGAGE!

There is a scene in the Tom Cruise film Top Gun where Cruise is eyeing an enemy plane in the sky and, because of his personal issues, will not engage in battle. Meanwhile, the command control on the ground is screaming in his headset, “engage…engage!” Finally, he comes to his senses and engages.

Such is the condition of modern Presbyterianism. The church is faced with multiple battles all around them but their leaders will not engage. They will not take their faith into the world and culture, and battle the enemies of God. Their own history condemns them for their lack of courage.

CONCLUSION

The Reformed people of the American Presbyterian and Dutch churches have so much to give to the cause of Christ in the world if only their leaders would get some courage and enter “the battle.” All of their deep theological understanding, rich biblical traditions, and influential history is of no value if it is kept hidden under monastic timidity.

They could change the world (like their ancestors), if they wanted to, but they are not interested. It seems they would rather spend their days going through ecclesiastical motions that give them a sense of religious duty.

What will happen to the Good Ship Presbyterian? Will it awake out of irrelevancy and loose itself from its scaffolding and set out to sea? It seems this decision is up to its captains. Will its captains once again take up the call, cause, and vision of those great Presbyterian ships of history? Time will tell.

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