Filling the empty warehouse

Fellowship of Presbyterians leaders outline next organizational steps

August 26, 2011

A man standing and giving a sermon, in front of a blue and purple background with a couple of music stands in front of him.

The Rev. Jim Singleton. —Photo by Jerry Van Marter


The fledgling Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) was described here Aug. 25 as an empty warehouse, and the 1,900 Presbyterians gathered for the group’s first get-together were invited to fill it up between now and January 2012, when the next FOP gathering will be held in Orlando, Fla.

“The world does not need another denomination,” said the Rev. John Crosby, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina, Minn. and a member of the FOP’s seven-member steering committee, “but continuing on the same path is a dead end and we’re not going to do that anymore.”

Crosby said FOP leaders have met with Presbyterian progressives and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denominational leaders, and “all sides agree that the denomination is broken badly. What we believe is that it cannot be fixed.”

Though the current chasm in the PC(USA) is over the recent ratification of Amendment 10-A ― which replaces the constitutional requirement that church officers practice “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman or chastity in singleness” with language that calls for “joyful obedience to Jesus Christ” but doesn’t single out sexual behavior ― that measure “is merely a symptom, a signal,” said the Rev. Jim Singleton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and also a FOP steering committee member.

Central to the malaise in the PC(USA), Singleton said, “is the erosion of the way we understand biblical authority … We’re in a box canyon and we’re not sure how to move because it seems like a dead end, fracturing the church.”

FOP leaders envision the organization ― it has already legally incorporated ― as an “umbrella” for Presbyterian congregations who wish to “differentiate” themselves from the PC(USA), Crosby said, noting that the different contexts in which congregations find themselves will determine how they proceed.

At least four possible options are being considered here:

  • Remaining within the PC(USA) but being more selective in participation in denominational matters;
  • Creating new presbyteries within the bounds of existing presbyteries for “like-minded” congregations;
  • Creating dual Committees on Ministry and Committees on Preparation for Ministry in existing presbyteries based on support for or opposition to the PC(USA)’s new ordination standards;
  • Creating a new Reformed body, with some churches departing the PC(USA) and others maintaining “dual citizenship, at least in the near term”;

“The Fellowship is an empty warehouse right now,” Crosby said. “Between now and January we hope you will help us fill it.”

The group’s immediate plans call for break-out sessions during this conference so congregations can explore more fully the options being proposed; regional gatherings during the fall; development of foundational documents ― a purpose statement, statements of theological essentials and structural proposals; and a second national gathering Jan. 12-14 in Orlando.

Singleton emphasized that the Fellowship is not operating out of anger.

“We are not mad ― our solutions will not come from our anger,” he said. “We’re not throwing rocks ― that’s not going to help us … Louisville is not the problem ― the virus is in the church. We’re sicker than we know.”

Crosby agreed. “We will not demonize the PC(USA) ― anger and fear are not the trademarks of Christianity,” he said.

Singleton said the group’s vision includes “redefining our theological clarity and our missional passion,” creating structures that are “relational rather than regulatory,” deeply connecting globally and developing leadership “in a very different way.”

The Fellowship’s vision is rooted in congregations, Crosby said. “Our purpose is to connect like-minded churches for common ministry and mission. For many it has been a long time since many Presbyterians felt that way.”

Like-minded is not the same is same-minded, Crosby said. “We mean like-minded based on our long-held theological essentials. We have created such a big tent that there is no longer any center pole to hold the whole thing up. We want to be clear about the center rather than having to police the boundaries.”

Crosby acknowledged that “most of the work lies ahead,” but “we have a unique opportunity to move ourselves into the post-denominational future.”

  1. “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman or chastity in singleness” I am thankful for the directions for daily living provided by our loving God (a God so loving that he sacrificed his Son, our Lord and Savior, to pay for my sins) and imparted to us through millenia of active conversations with believers. As such, after study and prayer, I willingly accept the above guidance on ordination as in accord with God's loving directions for the shephards of his flocks. I have humbly concluded that the guidance quoted above is neither man-inspired nor was it the result of a misunderstanding of human nature. Rather, it is a spirit-filled restatement of God's timeless and Biblically documented direction for his people. God provides such direction to provide for the happiness of all his people, of all colors, of all races, of all genders, of all preferences. In humility, I accept His direction gladly, knowing that I would otherwise be enslaved to my human nature, the godless morals of the world, the standards of unbelievers, to sin, and condemned to live separately from God. Though God gives directions that are contrary to my depraved human nature, I humbly accept his direction which I know is based on love. I try to live in accordance with his direction knowing that I cannot and grateful that I am saved through faith in my Lord Jesus Christ despite my failure. The actions of the General Assembly to rewrite the above guidance for ordination, despite the prayerful and spirit-filled attempts by loving Christians throughout the denomination to prevent it, appear to have been an effort to redefine God so that our depraved human weaknesses could be accepted as "in his image". The General Assembly's can no more redefine God and his image than you or I could redefine the orbit of the planets with the stroke of a pen. The rewrite is an internal symptom of an illness of hubris, conceit, Godlessness and self-justification. Consider today's prevailing logic chain...I am inclined to do something (overeat, fornicate, lie-down with another man or another woman, pollute, etc.). My inclination is in response to my human nature. My human nature should not be controlled, it defines ME. Therefore, my inclination is justified. To the contray, Christians know that Jesus overcame his human nature (in the desert, in the garden, on trial, and on the cross) and was selfless. Christians know we are called to live like Jesus knowing that we will fail. Christians know we are to attempt to live lives that supress and overcome our human nature (fornicating, overeating, lying-down with another man or another woman, polluting, etc.) and live in the world but not of the world. I will pray for those who are unable or unwilling to put their faith in the Lord, even to point of attempting to renounce their own human nature.

    by Anonymous

    September 15, 2011

  2. Mr Rob. Contrary to your belief that we are sick, I would like to point out what we HAVE done as a denonination. We have an inclusive church now, that accepts women as ministers, which many dont, we accept homosexuals, which god created, to be part of our church, we have set up missions across the WORLD, where they never heard of the love of Jesus Christ, we have assisted those in need through the PDA (Presbyterian disaster Assistance) when disasters have occured, we have rebuilt churches that have burned to the ground due to natural disasters, we have fought against war, poverty, discrimination. we have given money thourgh 2 cents a meal for those without food, we have set up water wells in countires that dont have running water, we have helped those with HIV in afirica and other countries. Ok, we didnt open so many churches in a year. other denominations havent either, its not about opening churches, or being the biggest, ITS about teaching the love and leadership of our lord jesus christ my friend. statistics are one thing; however its if we live this life to glorify him and send out his love to the world........we could have 6 million members, but if we dont use his word as he taught us to then what is the 6 million worth to us? not a darm thing. try going to a baptist church, or assembly of god. they dont have our passion for his love, its all about hell or how bad everyone and everything is. people seem to dwell on the bad; never the good......

    by Aaron

    August 30, 2011

  3. @Mr. Miller - maybe, just maybe our process for electing commissioners to "discern together" at GA is flawed. And maybe those doing the discerning brought with them an agenda to ensure their way was accepted. Could it be that like the Sanhedrin, the Ga was blinded by it's desire to get their way that they did not really hear or follow God? @Aaron - You believe that the seven of these pastors are sick and they do not have any right to declare that the church you love is sick? Well, as part of this dying denomination I have every right to say that we are deathly ill. We have been in constant decline since prior to reunion in 1983. We lost over 60,000 people last year alone. That is over 1,000 members a WEEK! We only planted 12 churches last year and closed more than that. We now will be calling home over 30 missionaries from Mexico due to the 10a decision. If this is not sick, I don't know what you would call sick. You seem to live in a very different denomination than I do. I wish I could see the positive in all that is happening as we waste away year after year.

    by Rob McClelland

    August 29, 2011

  4. Jim Singleton is reported to have said, "“We are not mad ― our solutions will not come from our anger.” Do you believe that anger is wicked? I grew up thinking that anger was wrong. But a better understanding of anger suggests that there is also righteous anger. God was angry with Moses who resisted returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. Moses was angry with the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf. Jesus was angry that the Temple was defiled by merchants and for the hard heartedness of the Pharisees. Bob Deffinbaugh, in his study on Righteous Anger, notes that anger as an expression of God’s righteousness is indeed appropriate and required. He provides some guidelines: 1. Godly people are angry when God is angry 2. Righteous anger is based upon people’s violation of God’s law, and must be lawfully expressed 3. Godly anger is not explosive, but is slow to be provoked 4. Righteous anger does not take pleasure in anger 5. Godly anger does not lose its temper, but is always under control. I am angry about the direction in which our denomination is moving and believe that God is angry as well. I pray that many others feel righteous anger. Perhaps such anger will lead to faith in action with that action yet to be determined.

    by Bill Andress

    August 27, 2011

  5. You, FOP are the life boat for PCUSA churches sinking under the sea. We have been longing for many years, but finally you did it. So many silent and faithful presbyterians will join and support for you, FOP.

    by Ben

    August 27, 2011

  6. When I joined the Presbyterian Church more than 50 years ago, I did so because I believed that out of the discussion and debate of ministers and elders, God could speak to the church and lead it in the direction HE wanted it to go. I still believe that. When pastors and congregations want to leave or to build a shadow church within the denomination because they don't like the decision made by the whole denomination through its orderly process, they need to consider that perhaps they are opposing God himself. If the denomination is sick, it is because too many members say, "either play the game my way or I'll take my marbles and leave." When God has spoken through the GA and Presbytery voting process, members need to get on board instead of creating an ulcer.

    by Marvin Miller

    August 26, 2011

  7. A thoughtful beginning that acknowledges the elephant in the room--two halves that fundamentally disagree--and are looking for a new way ahead--with civility. I hope progressives make an equal effort at civility when they respond to the change that's coming.

    by Tome Walters

    August 26, 2011

  8. We are not angry? If you have ever been in a chruch, to hear one of these guys preach, (Which I have) you will hear their hatred, bitterness, and anger. These guys are angry, upset, controlling. Their pride is on the line. They have not gotten their way, and so they want to start something they can control. They want to be the pope, where each church will not have its own say, they will run the show, its their way or no way. Please pray for these people. They are in dire need of 200% of your prayers daily. They are sick, not the chuch. Nobody is god, and nobody has the right to call MY church sick. My heart goes out to them, they are sick.

    by Aaron

    August 26, 2011