Controversy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) is not something new. For many conservative Presbyterians the question for the past few years has been whether or not they would leave this denomination of nearly two million members. The somewhat fractured church body had already lost a half-million members in a ten-year period leading up to 2009. Similar to the liberal trend faced in other church bodies, such as the ELCA, the Presbyterian Church has become more and more open to ordaining gay clergy. And, as was the case in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), this seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Presbyterians.
So what have they done about their dissatisfaction with their church’s departure from Scripture? That is where the “wineskins” come in. In reference to the passage in Scripture where Jesus says that “new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:38), a new network of Presbyterian churches who are discontented with the PCUSA has formed an organization called the “New Wineskins Association of Churches.” The network claims to have about 200 churches with about 100,000 members. Of this network, only 40 churches have voted to actually leave the parent body. Others have decided to remain in the PCUSA “while committing to reform the denomination” from within. Where have we heard this reasoning before?
A spokesman for the “New Wineskins” expressed some dismay that not everybody saw the necessity for taking a stand against the denomination’s liberal trend: “Doesn’t everybody see the necessity for this? Don’t all members find ministry frustrated by their ties to PCUSA?” Sad to say, apparently not everybody does see the need to make a complete break with their erring church body. Meanwhile, there is an ever-increasing need for more churchmen shaped in the mold of “new wineskins.”
Atheists have not always been known for their generosity. In a related statistic, sociologists have found that there is a six-in-ten chance that a person who never attends church will give money to a secular charity, while the percentage of religious people who do this is eight in ten. It is a generally known fact that in the past 200 years, most of the philanthropic and benevolent giving has been done by religious people.
Facing the public with a rather negative image related to charitable work, atheists are trying to present a better face. They would like to show that they “can be charitable without God.” So you will now find charitable groups among them with such titles as “Skeptics and Humanists Aid Relief Effort” and “Non-Believers Giving Aid Disaster Relief Fund.” An atheist group named “Foundation Beyond Belief” raised more than $140,000 for charity last year.
It has been suggested that the increase in non-believers’ giving may simply be due to an increase in the number of non-religious people, or perhaps because of global internet access to information. Whatever the reason, there is an increase. However, it must be noted that atheist giving is not necessarily benevolent giving. Much of their giving is for activist causes, such as funding for an anti-Christmas billboard, etc. That is not exactly what one would call “benevolent.” And even in charitable giving, the atheist does not have the motivation that the Christian has. One aspect of the difference is seen by Dr. Alex McFarland, an expert on religion and culture: “The basic premise is that since people are made in God’s image, all humans have inherent worth, value, and dignity. When you see humans as a mere product of evolution, there is less incentive to invest in benevolent causes because human life is cheapened.” Suffice it to say, that in view of the atheists’ support for charitable causes, there is such a thing as “God-less” giving.
“Stories” or History?
The Bible will ever be under attack from those who would seek to discredit it. These attacks are ever increasing, as seen by Christian apologist Ken Ham, particularly against the account of Genesis. He maintains that it is not just the usual battle between creationists and evolutionists anymore, but that “now it has gone into battle over a literal Adam and Eve, their literal fall.” He sees the opponents getting more intense in their challenges to the teachings of Genesis, for instance, rejecting the teaching that Adam and Eve were real people. If there are no literal Adam and Eve, Ham asks, then what happens to the teaching of sin and why did Jesus die? He correctly concludes, “Once we reject Adam and Eve, the rest of the scriptures fall like dominoes.”
It is Dr. Ham’s opinion that speaking of accounts in the Bible as “stories” is not helpful. Our churches do use that terminology, of course, and perhaps we could be more careful to explain that the Bible “stories” are not to be understood as just fables. It should be made plain that it is the “real stuff.” Dr. Ham would like to see that the Bible is taught as history: “This is history, it’s not just stories.” Point well taken. When teaching the truths of the Bible, one can never be too clear or precise.
Paul Madson is a retired pastor living in North Mankato, Minnesota.