Sunday, 7 December 2008

Deceit and Dishonesty Endemic in Church Life

Many poor Presbyterians have been left with little more than 'egg on their faces' as a result of the Presbyterian Mutual Society having to go into administration, brought about by its inability to repay monies that Presbyterians had invested in it.

This is bad and most unfortunate, but what has exasperated matters is the Pontius Pilate act of the church's senior administrator, and Clerk, Dr Donald Watts. On several occasions, he simply washed his hands of the entire affair, claiming that PCI had no legal ties with PMS. This cold and calculating performance by Dr Watts left many Presbyterians reeling, and speaking to a small group of PCI members this past week, found his public performances insulting and so easily seen through.

Now it might be true, and probably is, that PCI and PMS are separate legal entities, but since the formation of the PMS in 1986, no attempt was ever made to highlight this fact. On the contrary, the linkage between PMS and PCI was such that PCI members viewed them as being one and the same thing, and indivisible. At no time in the early years of PMS did I hear PCI say that these are two distinct organisations; on the contrary, up until this financial fiasco broke, most, if not all, PCI members saw these as two parts of the same whole. Indeed, just recently, at least one minister, and probably many more following the resolution passed at the 2008 General Assembly reaffirming the 'linkage' between these two entities, urged his members to invest their savings in the PMS.

PCI members genuinely believed that PMS was an integral part of PCI, and what reinforced their viewpoint was that fact that only Presbyterians could either invest in or borrow from the PMS (Presbyterians meaning only PCI members and not Christians who are Presbyterians by conviction). The fact that both shared the same website added to the belief, and, I think, in the early days, both were housed in Church House, Belfast.

What is so revolting is that the church deceived its own membership regarding the relationship between these two entities, and did nothing to disabuse them of this mis-belief. Even to this day, PCI members have told me that they believed these two organisations to be one.

Such corporate dishonesty and deception must be acknowledged publically, and perhaps those most closely involved in this deception made examples of. PCI members will now be left wondering what other things have been going on within the hallowed corridors of Church House, that they knew nothing about either. Where in reality is their hard-earned money going to which they pay in every week? When they support the missionary work of the church, are they really supporting the work of the Gospel, or is it ecumenical and even terrorist and communistic activities that they are supporting? Where does the United Appeal money go to, what is it supporting, and are Christian Presbyterians happy that their money is going in this way? Is the church being as dishonest in this as it was in the PMS situation?

Perhaps church members need to be asking some very pointed questions of their denomination, and not resting until they get satisfactory answers.

Taking risks for Christ and the Gospel

It is eminently satisfying to hear a minister return, in his preaching, to an emphasis of an earlier period where Christians were encouraged to be "all out for Christ." Too often, the church is content to stay within her 'comfort zone' and not push the boundaries for the Gospel. (I will not touch on the irresponsible risks taken by senior managers of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, yet strangely, were able to warn off their friends to withdraw their funds from the PMS, so that they did not lose out - and to pot with the rest!)

But taking risks for Christ and the Gospel is a fine-sounding thing to do. It shows to our congregations our zeal for the Gospel, and our determined-ness to break the frontiers in our service for Christ. We will climb any mountain, overcome every obstacle, cross any river, take on any enemy in a bid to demonstrate our keen-ness for the Gospel.

These are exalted ambitions, and worthy of imitation. What an inspiration they are to young believers, and what a challenge to believers of more mature years.

But is this a genuine call to the church, or is it yet another display of dishonesty on the part of the church's ministers? While I do not wish to impute impure motives to any preacher who makes such a call, like most other things, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating!" Once digested, one will know exactly the extent to which this was/is an honest call to the church.

If it is a Gospel requirement for Christians to get out of their 'comfort zone,' then it is also a Gospel requirement for Gospel ministers to get out of their 'comfort zone.' If their call to their hearers is genuine, then they will be the trail-blazers for their congregations. Once their people see them taking risks for the Gospel - genuine risks that could mean them becoming unpopular with the church authorities or even disciplined or sacked by them - then they will be encouraged to follow this noble example.

Especially is this the case in denominations where the true Gospel is not preached by every minister, and where anti-Christian policies are in place that authorise the victimisation of Gospel ministers, and linkages that are not for the furtherance of the Gospel.

But to take such risks, especially at institutional level, may not be what preachers have in mind. Such risks are just 'too risky,' and could prove a bit 'tricky.' After all, while no churches, except the Roman Catholic and its cognates, subscribe to the doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility, they act as if they do! And they act in this way because they believe in their hearts, with Pilate when he averred, "What I have written I have written," that the church is infallible in all it says and does. The church to which such cowardly minsters belong is also a close relation of the Roman Catholic religion.

So we have arrived at the place where ministers 'talk a good talk,' but do not 'walk a good walk.' They say one thing, but do something quite different. Not only is there lack of courage present, there is also, much more worryingly, an absence of integrity and honesty. How great an encouragement it would prove to be to many church members if they saw their ministers acting out what they preach to them, and giving the lead that many might just be waiting for. But this is too much to ask in today's decadent church.