Orthodoxy in the PCC – Where It’s At

In February 2020, The Renewal Fellowship convened three online gatherings of ministers, elders and congregants who adhere to a traditional view of doctrine and theology in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. The participants were, generally speaking, opposed to the remits (proposals) before our church courts to redefine marriage in order to create equal space for LGBTQI communities and to formally recognize the call and ordination of those in same-sex marriages.

The purpose of the gatherings was, firstly, to encourage one another in the light of the fact that a majority of presbyteries have approved the remits. They will now come before General Assembly in June for final consideration. The second purpose was to determine what our next steps might be and to what extent there is a willingness to respond with a unified voice.

Gatherings were held on February 11, 12, and 18 using Zoom conferencing technology. A total of 64 people – defined by computer connections – signed up. But the actual number of participants was more than 90, considering the fact that one connection was in a church meeting room with at least two-dozen watching and listening, and another was in a church meeting with a half-dozen others. Every region in Canada was represented. There were 30 ministers and 34 lay people.

We began each of the conversations with the following question: “Is some sort of theological separation in The Presbyterian Church in Canada now inevitable in order to avoid a mass exodus?” In other words, can revisionists and those in orthodoxy continue to work together in the PCC if the remits are adopted? The question defines theological separation as the creation of separate courts in the PCC to allow the orthodox and revisionists to have control over their own doctrine.

When reading the responses, it’s important to consider the following.

  • The participants were not chosen; rather, they responded to invitations that were directed to those in orthodoxy via Renewal Fellowship’s email database and RF and PSALT’s Facebook pages. We wanted to be focused on the agenda and not be drawn into a debate, so we were careful to allow participation by only those who were in orthodoxy.
  • To allow participants to speak freely, we pledged anonymity. Identification is limited to gender, ordination status, and geography: West (British Columbia to Manitoba), Central (Ontario and Quebec) and Atlantic.
  • The events were moderated by Renewal Fellowship Executive Director Rev. Andy Cornell, who reports that throughout all three gatherings, all participants were respectful of one another.
  • Each statement was spoken, not written, during live conversations in which dozens of people listened to one another and responded not only to questions from the moderator but also to those raised by each other.
  • All three conversations had the same starting point, but each went in a slightly different direction as the conversations evolved. Occasionally, the moderator would inject new questions based on the statements made by participants.

The first section of quotes are direct responses to the opening question. They are followed by quotes on related matters which naturally arose as the conversation evolved.

INDEX TO THIS ARTICLE:

“YES” TO THEOLOGICAL SEPARATION IF THE REMITS PASS

Male minister, Central
Yes, I think there does need to be some kind of separation. … I don’t believe at this point that it needs to be separate, like a withdrawal from the PCC. I think there are possibilities without officially calling it pathway ‘C’ (because I think that ship has sailed and that there’s baggage there now.) I think there are maybe some options to separate into presbyteries or synods or whatever the policy needs to be to allow to allow a continuing, orthodox, traditional view in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Male minister, West
Do we need a formal separation? Absolutely. We have a rapidly changing external social situation that’s going on right now, which is very quickly going to move into the church, if it hasn’t started already, where you have heard the concerns over harm. We need that formal separation within the denomination to protect us from those who would take that tack within the church, because it will be coming very quickly. After we approve the current remits, the pressure that’s going on politically outside of the church is not going to take as long as it did to get into the church with previous issues. And the other thing is that for those of us who hold an orthodox view of human sexuality, the legal opinion already made this very clear that we are in a very vulnerable situation, externally without any legal formal separation. Inside our denomination or even apart from our denomination where we can claim an honest religious conviction about this and at least try to protect ourselves under the freedom of religion and the Charter of Rights. So, yes, we absolutely need that formal separation within the church, if not an outright legal separation where we are simply sharing administrative resources.

Male minister, Central
Definitely, yes, we need something very much different. And I would suggest that what we need to do is to pour our energies into thinking about and creating as need be what that future reality might become. I think the church is deeply divided. I think it’s on a theological level.

Male minister, Atlantic
However much I love the PCC, I’m thinking the question really needs to be something like, is some sort of formal theological separation necessary to facilitate such a mass exodus? And the reason I say that is that my experience in the courts of the church … we talk about things along the lines of options. I think we’re hoping for sympathy. We’re hoping for respect. We’re hoping that people understand our point of view. I have not experienced that at all. … We have to realize that our position in orthodoxy is not a friendly position in our culture. In [Knox College professor] Charles Fensham’s interview in Maclean’s, he essentially said that orthodoxy is hateful. It’s passive bullying. Now I understand that to sit around the table at presbytery with people, we have to agree to certain things like for example, women’s ordination. We all have to accept it, believe in it. We can’t function if we don’t. How can we function in presbytery if people think that we hate them, and it doesn’t matter what we say? They think we hate them and I think that we have to recognize that our situation and that parallel definitions is just toleration for a little while. And so, personally, I think … we need to be prepared to do something. We need to have an option ready. And I know I’ve said it before, but in 1925, people just got up and left assembly.

Female elder, Central
In my own presbytery, it has really become almost a hostile place. I’m the moderator this year. And it is a painful exercise to come to presbytery, as some of you will have read the very unkind post that one of our members of our presbytery posted on the PCC Facebook page that was actually directed at a member of clergy who holds the orthodox view. … So I don’t think that we can really go on like this. It’s spilling over into so many other issues and for us in my own church, I think fundamentally, we just really want to get on to doing missional work. We want to stop talking about this. We want this to stop being an issue that eats away at our souls. … I don’t think that’s just going to magically go away. And the liberty of conscience piece, I also don’t really believe for a second that that’s going to hold for any length of time, and I know some of you as clergy are much more vulnerable than I am in this regard. But I think the legal piece around liberty of conscience with the double definition, I think that leaves you vulnerable. I know, some clergy speaking already have at least given up their state licence to perform marriage just to offer themselves some protection. So it’s just my desire to say how much I support all of you as clergy in this endeavour. And I thank you for your courage to stand up for your own personal convictions and your faith.

Male elder, Central
I’m coming to think more and more that it is because we just can’t talk about it on any kind of scriptural basis or any basis other than the one that the proponents of this change dictate.

Female minister, Central
Is some sort of formal theological separation in the PCC now inevitable in order to avoid a mass exodus? I think it might prevent some mass exodus. However, I think that at the congregational level is where we’re going to really suffer. For example, in our particular church … we have the luxury of having two ministers that are both orthodox in persuasion but our session is not unified. And our church is not unified either. And so at the congregational level, it really concerns me about what will happen after the remits are passed.

Male elder, Central
I think a split is inevitable, regardless of whether the remits pass or not. If they are defeated, people who support the remits are going to be upset and walk away, and the issue itself will not go away. If the remits pass, there are a lot of people who aren’t going to be able to go along with them, and they’re going to leave.

Male minister, Central
This would be the third time I’ve been through this. And one part of me thinks there’s an inevitability about this. And if the remits pass, it’s going to be hard times ahead for those of us who consider ourselves orthodox and hard times for our congregations.

Male minister, Central
I don’t see how it doesn’t either go to a session or congregational vote, whether you are affirming or not affirming. If I follow what Assembly seems to be doing, in passing these agreements, every congregation and/or session is going to have to decide one way or the other. So then the question is, is how do we leave? Do we leave the PCC entirely or do we divide within? And that brings up another question: what if it’s just the minister who is orthodox and the session and congregation or majority are affirming?

Male minister, Central
I don’t know if anything’s inevitable right now. But I do know that a number of us are feeling that the only way that our church will work again … in God’s way is by some kind of thing in line with the spirit of option [Pathway] C, which was not granted at the last General Assembly. … It’s two streams that would align people with like-minded theologies, mission, accountability, and fellowship so that we would we would not constantly be feeling like what’s the next thing to happen if who are we in fellowship with really don’t believe the Apostles’ Creed or these kinds of things.

Male congregant, Central
I think the answer to the question will really depend on the outcome of the General Assembly meeting this June. But I do not see the outcome of that General Assembly putting an end point to this ongoing discussion. I think whatever decision is made by the General Assembly will not please everyone. I think we all know that. And so, the controversy will not end with that. I think a lot of people have been seeking to find ways to accommodate all of us.

Male minister, Atlantic
Yes to some sort of theological separation. I think regardless of what happens with the remits in June 2020, some kind of separation will be taking place. Because you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The deep-seated theological divisions within the denomination have been nakedly revealed. And so now it’s a matter of where do we go from here? And that’s more or less where my thoughts lie and they lie actually along the lines of, how do we get there? And that has to do with the basis of authority if the denomination in fact becomes formally apostate. How can those who are orthodox among us submit ourselves to an apostate authority. Hence, I’m struggling with what form of theological separation would take place? There have been various overtures … seeking some kind of a structural reorganization as well as an overture with respect to gracious dismissal which is being worked on. … But one of the pressing questions in my mind has to do with what can we do in the interim. … Should we, in Orthodoxy, wait for the denomination basically to create some kind of a restructuring to allow our presence? I struggle with that because we would basically be submitting ourselves to what has become apostate church courts. Or should we be taking some kind of a proactive action in the interim, waiting for restructuring to take place and create new structures even without permission of the established structures of the church?

Female elder, Central
To be aligned with an orthodox path in a presbytery or synod to me would be more sense. We’re not out there on our own. There’s more strength in numbers, there’s more fellowship for us. But how do we actually do that? I don’t really know.

Male minister, Central
I can say it’s very hard to be planning on leaving the denomination at this point before the decisions are made. We can talk as much as we like. We’ve struck committees to look at options … And yet at the same time, we’re trying to be faithful, first and foremost, to the Lord. Is that not our first and foremost accountability? So this is part of the difficulty in the leadership question that you’ve raised. How do you appropriately show leadership in this time in a timely manner?

Male minister, Central
We are in consultation with other [same-language] congregations in Canada and we all are united in regard to our beliefs. When these remits pass, we cannot see ourselves continue to be under this church. So there should be, or we have to go through, some kind of separation. Whether this separation will be joining another denomination or establishing a new denomination … we will not be able to continue as a congregation that belongs to PCC, as it confesses to the two definitions for marriages. Our church – the pastors, the elders, the session, the congregation, the whole congregation – are united in this matter. … I wonder if we make a survey of congregations that will be willing to become like, an orthodox, separate wing or denomination or whatever. How many churches will be willing to do this? … So when we plan for the future, at least we would know how many congregations will be able to make a separate stand. … And of course, we have to be obedient to God’s Word and also obedient to God’s glory. So it’s quite clear for us what we will do. The question is, with whom will we be able to move forwards away from this new reality?

Male minister, Central
God has a plan for this church, and He has a plan for each one of us. And I lived that plan back in 1988, where I stepped out. I gave my notice six months ahead, didn’t know where I was going. And six weeks before I was out on the streets, he opened up a door for me to start a new church. And so I see this: back then we saw that the United Church was leaving us, we didn’t leave the United Church. I see a similar thing here that the Presbyterian Church is leaving us, not us leaving the Presbyterian Church. … I think that it’s important for us to have a group of people meet and set up some guidelines, and then perhaps take the next step. … We’re under bondage; we want freedom and there’s such a freedom to be able to lead and to worship God without having to deal with all of the stuff that that the denomination puts on us. I lived in that freedom. I would love to live in that freedom again. And so I want to encourage us all that God has a plan. He knows what He’s doing, and we need to need to follow Him and listen to His Spirit because He is speaking to us. And He’s going to show us exactly what direction we should take, and I believe that with my whole heart.

Male elder, Central
This is a done deal and it will be passed. So I’m not sure why we’re waiting any longer. We really need to start to explore a form of separation or having a distinctive group separated from the group that now are for the remits.

Male minister, West
I certainly know for my own congregation, they will not live with this decision. Under no circumstances do I see them going along with it. … Most are not even willing to look at a kind of meeting-in-the-middle situation. If the church changes its teaching, they want out.

Male minister, Central
I believe that a complete separation from an apostate church and church court system is really the only faithful option before us, sadly.

“WAIT AND SEE” IN REGARD TO THEOLOGICAL SEPARATION IF REMITS PASS

Male minister, Central
It’s definitely something worth considering. And it may be a way of finding a place to keep our assets and to be faithful to the Word of God without interference. … And it might also give us more time beyond General Assembly 2020 to see what the Lord is doing with our own congregations and with various other congregations and how they’re leading. It’s not procrastinating, but [providing] more time for discernment while providing a window to be faithful without interference from others.

Male minister, Central
[In my presbytery] we have four congregations that are either closing or on the verge of closing. … And we have some people who, I think, would be tempted at least to be quite vindictive towards those of us who are evangelicals, orthodox, or whatever term you want to use. But I think we’re going to be so preoccupied with dealing with closing congregations and just with the palliative reality of our denomination. … I want to see what God’s going to do to renew this denomination once the dust settles on all that death. And maybe the powers that be are going to not wait and maybe the priority really is, as some people have said, to come after conservatives. But I’m cautiously hopeful that we’re doing in each of our congregations what we can to pursue what we need to in terms of mission. That’s what we’ve all been doing. How long has it been since the national church really contributed to evangelism and mission of many different kinds in our local settings? I can’t remember a time. So, for me, it’s business as usual that way until someone comes right in my face and says you have to do this, or you can’t do that.

Male minister, Central
I’m so interested to know where are our Korean language presbyteries? The Chinese churches, the Arabic and African congregations, the ethnic congregations of our denomination. I don’t want to do anything without conversation with them and to know where they’re going and what they’re doing. I want to lean in with them. … I am probably at a different place, personally, than where the congregation is. Our congregation would be very diverse on this issue. But they probably just want to stay together and they don’t really want to deal with the issue too much. But that really puts me in a bind to know how I respond to having to leave my congregation. … Certainly my experience is that … many [congregations here] are on their last legs numerically. So it definitely will be a different church in 20 years’ time.

Male minister, West
Our people locally need to know that we are engaged in some clear leadership and direction on this with some clear options ready. I believe we also need to be able to work together and … certainly with the Koreans and the ethnic churches. … I raise the question of whether we should be talking about gracious separation as opposed to gracious dismissal, because my concern is that it’s perceived that if we’re angry enough to leave, we’re expecting somebody to be gracious to us when we go. I know that’s not the intention of those words. But I think what comes across or we’re making a commitment to be ungracious as we go as well. So I think that that needs to be something to think about. Somebody has mentioned giving up licences in a marriage, like finances, I’d be in any other thing that we’re concerned with. And [what about congregations which] receive Canadian Ministries grants? … [They] receive a lot of contributions from across the country, probably from people that are all over the map on this issue.

“NO” TO THEOLOGICAL SEPARATION IF THE REMITS PASS

Male minister, Central
Let’s say one of my children comes out as gay or lesbian. Now would I separate myself from them and have no relationship with them whatsoever? In some sense, like if you do separate us and think that ‘well, I don’t have to deal with this issue ever again,’ you might think that initially that it’s easier. But the problem is that we don’t get a chance to speak into the life of my children anymore. You do your thing. I do my thing, and that’s that. And so when we had that [RF/PSALT Thriving in Babylon] conference at Vaughan Community Church, one of the ministers from the United Church came and spoke. He said there were a group of evangelical pastors in the United Church where their role is simply to just keep lifting up Jesus into the denomination. And I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry when I heard that. I mean, it seems so obvious. That’s what we are here to do as a church. But people have to actually, you know, formalize that and that’s one of the reasons they exist. And there is a stream within that denomination for people who think like that. Our identity in Christ is so much more than just sexual orientation. And I think a lot of us really want to kind of move forward so that we could focus on mission instead of this keep sidelining us. But the question that I asked was, well, what’s stopping us? So why can’t we actually have gatherings of, you know, churches that are actually like minded and ask questions like, “Where is the church right now? What’s the mission of the church? What’s the opportunity of the church in the midst of all this turmoil and these uncertainties and how can we still stay on mission?” I would just love to have gatherings like that. And I think if we could have gatherings like that to just renew us and refresh us and be around like-minded brothers and sisters, even as we continue to live with this reality because even if we separate and leave a denomination, this issue is not going to go away in our country. For us who are dealing with this right now to still be able to deal and offer support and wisdom to one another, even as we work through this and the denomination, and hopefully they’ll equip us better to also deal with it and to be sensitive to people in these areas, but also to people where we need to stand for. So do I feel we need to separate? And I feel like why should we leave? You know, this is our house. This is our place that God is a lot of us. And so I hope that we can still stay and still, for people who are like minded, find gatherings and have maybe conferences where we can get together to really be an encouragement and go beyond this issue and really get down to the business of mission.

ON THE HUNGER FOR LEADERSHIP AND VISION

Male minister, Central
We need to find a new reality. I think we need to advocate within the system as much as we can for things like gracious dismissal. But ultimately, I’m of the opinion that we really have to give ourselves now to defining what is going to come next that we can corporately engage. And one of the things I’d like to comment on is a tremendous need in this discussion for vision. I don’t hear about it very much. But I have a real desire to be part of something in the future. It’s hard to describe what that might be, but a real passion to be part of something that is Christ-centred, with a high view of Scripture, truly evangelistic, and missional. And I just think that we can talk a lot about where we’re at and the struggles that we have, but it’s time to start saying, with real energy, what can we create now? Can that happen with the PCC? I’m open to that. … While there might be some sort of organizational connection, we would need to create a new entity for myself and my congregation to remain within the PCC. But beyond that, what are the options? That’s what I’m asking myself now, is there another denomination that we might join? Do we want to create our own denomination if need be? My concern is that we not wait too long to have some really concrete options before us. In the church where I serve – and I imagine it’s not unlike a lot of the others who are sharing today – there are people who will leave if this decision is made unless we can give clear leadership and direction about other options for the future. And as I say, June’s not very far away. What our session is doing is beginning to really work hard to know how to lead our congregations through the next six months, essentially, so that we can hold on to a lot of really great people. But we need to provide them with concrete options, so that they will stay with us, and then help us to create what is yet to come.

Male minister, Atlantic
I think that we need to be prepared to do something like that. We need to be prepared across the country. Say we can’t live in this sort of situation. It’s sort of like when a marriage breaks down, maybe there’s no longer cohabitation. But we recognize there’s legal things, there’s administrative things that need to be resolved. I think we’re in that sort of situation. …. The people in my congregation are asking me, what are we going to do? What’s the plan? What are the options out there? And I think we need a plan and we need an option so that we can be free to do the work of the Kingdom. That’s what we need to do to do the work of the kingdom, and everybody needs to do that.

Male minister, Central
I am very thankful for the work that the two Han-Ca presbyteries have done, the gatherings that they had, I think they’re key as well as other ethnic churches. If they can provide some leadership in this area, I look for that. I hope for that and that’s great.

Male minister, Central
I’m sure people have heard of all the different kinds of statements that different groups of ministers and or elders have done in different denominations. One is called the Nashville statement. Is there any benefit in terms of moving forward with a sense of togetherness, momentum, hopefulness, goodness. Has it already been done? Or did I miss a group of ministers and elders signing on to some positive, life-filled statement, saying, “Hey, this is how we see human sexuality and the good life,” and being signed by a couple of hundred ministers and elders.

Female minister, West
I think there’s a point where it’s time to do something new. … My fear is that we get to June, things pass, and then we just find ourselves in some level of chaos. But if we could remain in for a longer term, I think that that would be good. I also really feel that we need to be doing this kind of thing and thinking through some of it ahead of time. In our congregation there’s a lot of people who are very clear on what they’re going to do if this vote happens in June, and we’re really desperately trying to hold on to them and hold our congregation together, so we don’t have all kinds of people flying out the doors of our churches after those remits go through in June.

Male minister, West
I’m wondering if at this point that it would be possible to appoint a small group of people who have a gift for articulating vision and structure to clearly articulate some options. It could be a group that would engage the diversity. It would be good to have one or two Korean representatives and other ethnic people on that group. They could put together a clear sense of two or three or four different ideas of what kind of approaches we could take at this point. With a large group like this, we’re certainly expressing concerns, but we need to get to a point where we’ve developed something that we embrace humbly and with an openness but that at least we have a clearly articulated understanding of options of which way to go.

Male minister, Atlantic
I do believe there is a growing impatience and there is a lack of leadership and I’ve been hesitant to jump into the vacuum. And someone else may be better qualified to do that than I am. … And I’m not sure that a cookie-cutter approach where one size fits all [would work]. … We have very diverse congregations across the board and very different, unique missional situations, and each congregation needs to discern for itself. Which is most advantageous to serving the mission of Christ?

Male minister, Atlantic
I want to reiterate a prayer request that God would raise up wise leadership in the coming months as we move toward General Assembly and post General Assembly.

ON NEXT STEPS

Male minister, Atlantic
Perhaps a not exactly a new body, but sort of a steering committee that is not formally under the auspices of Renewal Fellowship or formally under the auspices of PSALT. But there does need to be some area that some group of people that can provide some touchpoint and leadership for orthodoxy, in the event that there are groups leaving to possibly various places. Is this group some sort of clearing house advocacy group, a group that can that can keep the issues before the courts of the church and yet not necessarily be painted with the Renewal Fellowship or the PSALT banner?

Male minister, Central
The logistics of trying to establish something brand new without any support from an existing denomination would be massive. Really difficult.. … It would be better to have an interim organization we can join with, and then launch something in Canada. The logistics of that are huge and it would be much better to join with someone else. Why multiply the number of denominations if we could join with something existing. That’s what happened in the United Church.

Male minister, Central
I would stop short of thinking that joining Han-Ca’s the way to go. … I just think there are probably a number of barriers that would be difficult to overcome joining the Han-Ca presbyteries. However, I do agree that the idea of being able to move presbyteries is a good one. And the question that comes to my mind is, you know, are there current presbyteries who would say, well, we’re going to put it in our standing orders or whatever, we’re going to make a decision at the presbytery level to become, to borrow an Old Testament phrase, to become presbyteries of refuge and who would be open to other congregations joining them? … I’d love to see two options in Toronto … Maybe you have an orthodox option and a progressive option, whatever. I would rather see that than saying, well, we’re all just going to go to Han-Ca.

Male minister, Central
I see some people have thrown up the name ECO [Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians] the denomination that was formed after the PCUSA made the change. There’s a denomination I personally would love to be a part of, because they are Christ-centered. They do have a high view of Scripture, they are passionately evangelistic, they are missional. You know, they encourage, if not require, I’m not sure, but all churches to have a vision and the mission statement, you know, so they’re intentional about what they’re about, rather than just carrying on doing what they’ve always done. See, that’s an environment where we would thrive.

Male minister, Central
I wonder, we may have a God-given opportunity, right in our faces and that is forming some kind of formal alliance with Eastern or Western Han-Ca.

Male elder, Central
I’m kind of hearing an underlying desire for people to see a ‘plant a flag’ [group] around which traditional minded people can rally. … so that whatever happens in June, we have a sudden upwelling of people saying we can’t live with this. Boom, here’s our flag. Everybody rallies around it, rather than us feeling like we’re in a sea of chaos, a chaos of uncertainty. I think a lot of people are expressing maybe not in words but they’re looking for a flag to rally around or someplace to rally around whether that’s us or something else or what’s going to happen but I think that’s what you’re looking for.

ON TIMING AND URGENCY

Male minister, Central
We are experiencing growth in the congregation. And this growth actually has been kind of delayed or is being hindered somehow by our future plans, what we’re gonna do. And I know that for all of us, if not most of us here, the building and the assets is what’s putting a break on what we do. … two, three years is too long, it means a congregation can be killed and wiped out. Especially if we’re talking about an ethnic congregation that has decided to come here to Canada to mix with the Canadian societies and to look at churches around it. And all of a sudden they really get kind of surprised by our national church, you know, getting off the road. Two, three years is too long.

Male minister, Central
We do need to leave room for God to act and do something surprising. And frankly, if we wait – and I understand I really, really, really understand the urgency that you folks feel. … I grieve for the Presbyterian church because I believe that what they’re doing is they’re exchanging ethnic diversity for sexual diversity. Because this will turn away many of our ethnic churches, and I’ve had conversations recently with a very good friend of mine, who has commented that there is a real colonial approach here happening. The approach of those who are in favour tends to be, eventually, when everybody’s enlightened, they’ll realize we’re right. And that’s offensive. So I understand the urgency in ethnic congregations. I do want to encourage you to wait until after General Assembly because I think we’ll have more credibility at that point. And you might avoid a lot of heartache, legally. If we can act together.

ON THE UNDERLYING ISSUE

Male minister, Central
I’m of the opinion, like probably a lot of you, that behind this is a much bigger thing than just this topic. Really it’s around interpretation of the Scriptures and how we understand the Bible as prescriptive or just descriptive.

Male elder, Central
In my congregation’s session and probably in the congregation as a whole, there’s growing reluctance and aversion to discussing theology, talking about what the Scriptures say about this issue. And more so as we get closer to June and the decision. So let’s get on with it. We know what’s going to happen. And we need to deal with that. … The language that many other people use that are in favour of the change to my mind comes directly from the social justice movement, and the world outside the church. It’s invaded our church in a big way.

Female minister, West
I agree that the sexuality issues are really not the central issue that we’re dealing with. It’s an overall theology that that we’re seeing has shifted in our church and it’s been going on for a very long time. … I’ve been feeling that frustration for a long time. And I think that even if we could get past these issues of sexuality, we’re still going to be swimming upstream in terms of trying to be faithful to the Scriptures as we feel that God is revealing them to us. … I’m going into my last 10 years of ministry, and I don’t want to spend it feeling like I’m constantly in a battle with others in the denomination. … I don’t want to be hurting people. I don’t want to hurt my LGBTQI brothers and sisters in the church. But I also don’t want to be feeling like I’m in opposition.

Female minister, West
I think of a close colleague who said that her presbytery, when they were voting on the remits, she was the only one to mention the Scriptures. And that’s scary. In my eyes anyway, and those who were at General Assembly with me in June, also heard a fellow colleague say it’s not a Biblical issue, but a justice issue. And so how do we work together to keep the Scripture high, as I think all of us already do, but to try. And I guess it just scares me that Scriptures have almost been pushed out of the way and other things have taken precedence over them.

Male minister, Central
I think that the church is going in two separate directions. There are two trajectories. Maybe one is progressive, and one is orthodox. And it’s happening in lots of different denominations. And I think it’s the sign of the times, you know, the culture is having its influence. And people are somehow thinking that there’s a juxtaposition between Scripture and justice, which of course we wouldn’t hold. But that’s just another example and that progressive liberal church is just going to continue down a path. I believe that’s going to go well beyond this discussion. The other trajectory is a faithful one, and I think that one will thrive. The Church of Christ thrives when God’s people are faithful, and when Jesus is preached to them and so forth. That is the future of the church to me. Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of that? Why wouldn’t we want to create that? Why wouldn’t we want to give leadership to it?

Male minister, Central
I’ve grown up in the PCC. I’ve loved this denomination. What I’ve come to terms with already is that, in a sense, the church has changed. And it seems it’s being evidenced this year and probably will be at Assembly, but I don’t belong so much in it anymore. Theologically, I’m in a great minority position. And I’ve been waiting for some years now to discover if indeed, that is true. And if that is true, then it’s simply for me, personally, to respond to that reality. Do I want to stay in the church? Or do I not? And I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t. What I want is to be part of something that is – I don’t want to put it this way but I’ll put it this way to make a point – that’s not like the PCC. That is, where orthodoxy is faithful to Scripture, there’s a high view of Scripture, really Christ-centered and eager to lead people into Jesus and to partner with similarly minded people, so that my ministry can thrive so that I can be encouraged and I can encourage others.

Female congregant, Central
I believe the root of this is an issue of theology. I did read both the doctrinal statements that were sent out about three years ago. And having read the one from the revisionist theology, I realized that what we were up against was something so large and so different. Most people would not read it, or would not understand that they were reading something that was taking us away from the Gospel. It was to me blasphemous, and it was even hard to read some of the accusations against the people in Scripture and their sexual orientation that is contained in that document. I think we need to be aware of what we are really facing. We are facing the work of the evil one in the church to divide us and to take us away from the basis of Scriptures. We certainly have been called in Scripture to show loving kindness and care of all people. However, we are not making this up. This is the Word of God to which we have committed ourselves and on which we will stand on the issue of human sexuality.

ON LEARNING FROM HISTORY

Male minister, Central
I was in the United Church in 1988 when the United Church passed these same issues. … And what happened was that we tried to look at ways of staying within the domination and being who we were within the changes that were taking place. But what ended up was 100 of us clergy left all at once, and we decided that we were going to form a new denomination, and in forming that new denomination, we called it the Congregational Christian Churches in Canada. And while we were doing that, the Congregational Church in Canada, which still had five churches, caught wind of it and invited us to join them and come underneath their authority. And so we created a brand new church. Now, that was a great step for all of us to do that. … And so, we spread far and wide all across the country. Churches were springing up. I never thought I’d start a new church from scratch, but did and it went gangbusters for about 15 or 20 years. Following that, I think what happens, part of what happened, was that those who were on the ground floor started to die. And so the new church went through some growing pains, and so today 30 years in, I was looking on the website recently and there’s only a handful of the original churches who still belong to that new denomination that we started. And so even though there was this euphoric, wonderful starting up a new funding church over the last 30 years, it’s sort of waned. Some churches have left, some people have left and so as they say, it was great while it started, but right now, it’s not what it was 30 years ago. So I guess what I’m saying is, is that if we’re looking at an option for starting something new, we need to look at the research what happened with us and see just so we don’t make the same mistakes, if that’s one of the roads that we want to go.

Male minister, Central
I think all of us are anxious about the freedom of conscience clause, if I can put it that way, and how long it’ll last. We’ve been offered the analogy of a marriage and clearly, that’s a legitimate one. But I feel like I was searching for an analogy for our circumstances and the PCC. I came up with the European Union. Okay, so we’ve got Wynford Drive, which is like Brussels, and they have some power, but each of us in our congregations are kind of like independent nation states, I would say. So my congregation here … to the extent that we have planned into the future, we’re going to wait and watch to see what happens. We have agreed as a session to return to the debate after General Assembly, assuming the decision is made to adopt the remits, which I think will be, but I remember [Bishop] Charlie Masters from ANIC (Anglican Network in Canada) the continuing conservative Anglican denomination speaking … at the first PSALT conference at Vaughan Community Church and saying some of you may think there’s this bright future for you, once you’ve left the denomination, but in fact, let me give you a wake up call here. You’re going to miss your building like you cannot imagine, and you’re going to find that people aren’t going to rally to your congregation, because you’ve stood for the truth. And that’s not to be defeatist about it.

Male minister, Central
What life was like for orthodox folks in the PCUSA after the decision was made, it became difficult. They experienced hostility. I think of those in the Anglican Church of Canada. It’s been very difficult for them. I’ve spoken to people who have lived through this sort of dynamic in several denominations, and they’re really quite clear, at least from their history, that it will be difficult for us to stay in the denomination. There is, I think we can all agree, a bit of a hostility at times toward orthodoxy that’s being expressed today, a bit of a militancy in various quarters. … I would suggest we’re probably going to be facing, after this issue is dealt with, many other issues: polyamory or who knows what’s to come. I personally don’t want to spend the rest of my ministry, which is slowly winding down, in such arguments and putting my energies toward battling. Again, I have a vision to be in a denomination or a synod, whatever we might be able to create. We can refocus our energies and our passions in a collegial way toward building the kingdom of God. And yeah, it’s a nice thought, I guess, in my mind that we could stay in and continue to witness to the Lord Jesus and to be faithful to Him. And that is certainly possible and there may be people obviously called to that, and I would celebrate that for them. But I think we have to be very realistic about the attitudes toward us in the church and what that will continue to produce for us. … .Again, my heart is to go in a different direction, to band together with people of like mind and to create an environment where we support each other, and we encourage one another, and we go forward with the like mind, build the kingdom of God. Everybody has to make that decision. They have to decide for themselves what God’s calling them to. But no, I don’t think it’s going to be simple or easy for those who stay in.

Male minister, Central
In [my presbytery] there are some people that do see this, the passing of the remits, as a stepping stone to, as I say, full inclusion. And even people I’ve talked to outside of the denomination see this as a stepping stone towards what they see as full inclusion. The other thing I was going to mention is that my experience with the Anglican Church and also with ANIC there was one friend, he had a place to go within ANIC. There was another friend who stayed within the Anglican Church, because he did not have that same security and was thinking about his family, so he was resistant to make that jump. So we talked about if there’s any movement, it is important for a lot of people to have a place to know that they’re not making a jump into oblivion.

ON “GRACIOUS DISMISSAL” AND BUILDINGS

Male minister, West
However we move forward, whether we’re constantly fighting or whatever, I don’t know. But we’re not surrendering the facilities here. And we’re not surrendering any other way either. But some of the African congregations might not be so tied to their buildings. And for them, it would be an easy jump to move over to some of the African Presbyterian churches that have a presence here in in Canada and simply join those denominations, being able to just find another place to meet. Most of them are not longstanding congregations within Canada. So there’s very little history tying them to buildings.

Male minister, Central
I also agree [with others who say] we’re not giving up the building. We’re not giving up the facility. We’re not walking away. I have spoken to people before about how if my wife and I ever have a fight, which never happens by the way, I don’t go sleep on the couch. And I don’t expect my wife is going to go sleep on the couch. It’s my bed. I can sleep in my bed. I’m not giving up my place in the bed; that’s my bed. That’s a similar thing here. I’m not going to walk away, just hand it all over and say, “Well, I guess we disagree.” … And if it gets to that point where it’s taken and we’re booted out of the denomination, all right I’ll go without the facilities and whatnot. But until that point, I don’t see why we should not just continue to be Presbyterian within The Presbyterian Church in Canada, claim every single inch of what the remits are supposedly saying. They say there’s an equal place for people have this understanding, take every single inch of that and say, well, that’s how we’re going to organize into our own presbyteries. Whether you permit it or not, this is what we’re going to start doing. So that’s more the approach I would rather take rather than some kind of mass exodus from the denomination.

Male minister, Atlantic
I spoke to [a denominational leader] and his word for what’s going on in the denomination was drama. And I thought about drama. It’s not how I perceive it; it’s not drama. This is the life of the church and I think we have to be faithful; we need to be faithful. And so I agree … I don’t think we should give up our buildings. But if they want to take them, then it’s like Hebrews: remember those earlier days you accepted the confiscation of your property with joy. I think we forget who we were, who we are. We forget who we are. My grandfather was in a church in 1925, and the story is they got up and they walked down the road and started over. You know, we forget who we are. Where are we? Do we really believe what we believe?

Male minister, West
What we worked for as the pioneers of this congregation … are we just leaving it behind? That is a very determining factor. How do we do that if we say this is the time to leave the denomination, so we can get that peace of mind. … Can we have the assurance that we’re going to keep our building and our assets? That’s a very huge thing for us.

Male minister, Central
We are concerned about the assets as was mentioned before. We’ve been in the building for many years. We worked hard to purchase it and build it up. We have many ambitious plans to expand but they are frozen now. Because of all of this movement that’s happening or this risk that’s happening, we cannot stand still for long. So we are determined that we will either separate completely or go under a different entity that’s with clearly-defined theology that’s orthodox and Biblical, and with no risk of being modified or revised in the future. We realize the value of the assets, but we’re willing to forego that, if that means we stay to the truth that we believe and that we adopt.

Male elder, Central
If you look at your budget, the amount of money we spend because we have a building, it’s a lot. It’s a huge chunk of the budget. If the money they’re giving is no longer going towards the building it can go towards something else, whether renting another space or in a renting in another church or somewhere else. … And I think it’s also worth noting that people have
already left. I know of several congregations in which several families, in some cases double digits, 20 to 40 people in some larger congregations, have already vacated just an anticipation of what might happen.

Male minister, Atlantic
So, as much as I hate to see some congregations leave, I think we’d be stronger together than apart. There are some congregations who could align themselves with another denomination quite readily and comfortably, theologically and continue their mission more effectively than to use up energy within the denomination. And I cannot hold them in any negative judgment for doing so. But that’s not my situation. We’ve just invested millions of dollars in new ministry facility. It’s not something that we can walk away from. We don’t have vast endowments, which some congregations do have that will perhaps allow them to do something like that. But that’s not our situation. So we’re kind of stuck. But we’re seeking to be faithful to mission in the meantime.

ON THE LACK OF UNITY IN MANY CONGREGATIONS

Male congregant, Central
On the question of leadership, it seems to very much depend on where a particular pastor finds himself in relation to his congregation. If he doesn’t feel he has the full backing of the congregation to take them in some other direction than the one the PCC seems to be going in, he will be naturally hesitant to take a leadership position, particularly if he hasn’t got a plan ‘B’. And so, my willingness to take a leadership position is predicated on that fact. So it’s a bit difficult to know where among ministers it’s going to come from if it doesn’t come from those who have a congregation that is, let’s say 80-90% with them.

Male minister, Central
A lot of us are trying to do contingency planning. … So we’ve had two extra and special congregational meetings. We’ve had two session retreats. We’ve had a number of papers presented to the congregation on the subject. And what I found is that it’s quite rare and odd that most people have not had any extra meetings, that there isn’t a lot of conversation in most congregations, that there isn’t much information or even talking to one another in the church for fear of division in the local church.

Compiled by Rev. Andy Cornell
Renewal Fellowship
Executive Director
<renewalfellowshippcc@gmail.com>

2 thoughts on “Orthodoxy in the PCC – Where It’s At

  1. When calculating the amount of influence each presbytery has on the vote (large presbyteries, with a larger constituent roll, have more influence on the vote than small ones), is the result based on how many are on each roll, or is it based on how many individuals voted at the time that each presbytery voted? For example, a large presbytery votes, but the meeting was held with barely more than a quorum present; no matter which way the vote went, the vote should only be reported using the number of people that actually voted, so that a false advantage of an otherwise large roll is not used. Which way is it being done?

  2. I so appreciate ‘hearing’ these comments. Thank you for publishing them. I am hoping that the PCC will not implement any change (i.e., these remits) without some time for planning what will become of dissenters. I, too, have experienced angry antipathy toward orthodox belief in these matters. There won’t be a place for us in the PCC if no planning towards an orthodox ‘stream’ is effected.

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