Thursday, October 1, 2009

UnPresbyterian Dissent

What's going on in Florida right now is a perfect illustration of how little "presbyterian" we often are in the PCA.

Dr. D. James Kennedy was the founding pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was one of the most well-known names in the PCA (and elsewhere), and when he died just over two years ago, it was a loss for both the PCA and the Kingdom. Dr. Kennedy was a strong leader, and was well-known for Evangelism Explosion (an evangelism program that he developed), his outspoken participation in political debates, his media ministries, and starting Knox Seminary in Florida.

In the spring of this year, the news got out that Coral Ridge PCA was ready to call a new pastor: Tullian Tchividjian, who was at that time pastoring another church in the area. Though young at 37, Pastor Tchividjian has written several books (with another on the way), and had already begun to make quite a name for himself as pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. He also had the distinction of being the grandson of Rev. Billy Graham. New City didn't want him to go, but Coral Ridge had set their hearts on him; they finally agreed to merge the two churches so that he could do both! Everyone was excited.

That is, until some of the people at Coral Ridge realized that Pastor Tchividjian is not Dr. Kennedy. They were unhappy with his decision not to wear a robe when he preached. They weren't happy with the fact that he felt that Evangelism Explosion, while having its place, was not as effective a method as it once was; most people, he said, are still a few steps away from those questions. They also were displeased with the fact that he refused to offer strong political messages from the pulpit as Dr. Kennedy had frequently done. Once they realized these things, some were unhappy. Did they voice their concerns to their Session? Did they contact their new pastor and speak to him directly about their concerns? No-- they did none of these things.

Instead, a few-- six, to be exact-- began to circulate a letter to the congregation against the wishes of the church's leadership. In that letter, this handful of members from the 2000+ member congregation stated their case against Pastor Tchividjian, and circulated a petition calling for a congregational meeting to remove him as pastor. Eventually, they accumulated several hundred signatures (more than the 100 required by the Book of Church Order), and a congregational meeting was called. (Those six also were disciplined for their sinful stirring up of dissent, instead of handling their complaints in a biblical manner.)

The meeting that these dissenters had longed for came, and to their surprise the vote went the other way: 422 voted WITH the dissenters to remove Tchividjian as pastor; 940 voted AGAINST that action, and instead voiced their desire to see him remain as their pastor. Incidentally, 100% of the church's officers voted with the majority to keep Tchividjian as Pastor.

How did these dissenters respond? They had taken full advantage of presbyterian polity to force a meeting and vote, hoping to get their way. Would they behave like true presbyterians, and accept the decision of the majority without further complaint?

No-- in fact, they revealed that they are not very presbyterian after all. They left immediately, and
the following weekend held services for a new church-- with 400+ people in attendance, 501(c)(3) status already applied for, and talks of property hunts already underway. One of the leaders of the group said, "what happens next depends on what denomination contacts us."

I grieve this sort of unbiblical dissent, but as much as that I also grieve this sort of easy abandonment of presbyterianism. Whatever this group becomes, I hope they can recognize that they aren't presbyterian in any functional way-- because presbyterianism is fundamentally based on the idea that I'm as likely as not to be mistaken or even sinful in my decision-making alone, and that the larger body usually has greater wisdom and discernment than I do individually.

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