(This article received a huge amount of affirmation, but a major cyber attack against our web site prevented many people from reading the whole article.
I have gotten some push back on the term “Liberal Progressivism” I appreciate the demands for clarification which I will be happy to provide in the next Discerning the Times article. But for now it is critical to get out the facts about the most un-Christlike way that the Presbytery of Western North Carolina and the PC(USA) is persecuting this faithful congregation in the town of Montreat.)
This week my focus is liberal progressives.
Liberal progressivism has over the years infiltrated once great Christian denominations including the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA).
These denominations persecute the true Church of Jesus Christ, thus blocking the advancement of the Gospel. The one to which I belong is the PC (USA). For more than five years now, I have observed the Presbytery of Western North Carolina’s ill-treatment of a faithful, Christ-centered, congregation, Montreat Presbyterian Church.
What has taken place at Montreat is outright persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ. I am a PCUS/PC (USA) missionary and ordained pastor in the PC (USA). Members of my family were founding lot holders in Montreat. I have observed this persecution first hand. I have watched the insidious, often subtle, and now, blatant, persecution of this faithful congregation. The persecution intensified five years ago when the congregation started the process of seeking to continue its tradition of faithfulness to Jesus Christ by leaving the PC (USA).
Montreat Presbyterian Church is located in the town of Montreat, North Carolina. This is also the site of the Mountain Retreat Association, a major conference center of the PC(USA). In addition, Montreat College makes its home in Montreat.
The Evangelical Roots of Montreat
Montreat, the Conference Center, as founded by John Collins in 1897, had its spiritual roots in the R.A. Torrey and D.L Moody revivals. R.A. Torrey was one of its original speakers and teachers. The Montreat Community Church was also established during that founding era in 1902 as a non-denominational church. The first foreign mission conference to be held at Montreat was organized in the summer of 1901 with PCUS missionaries from China and Korea. From 1905 through 1907 the conference center became part of the Presbyterian Church and the church was re-chartered in 1906 as a new congregation of the Presbyterian Church (US). In 1916 Montreat College was founded as the Montreat Normal School.
The facts are that steadfast commitment to Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and openness to the Holy Spirit formed the identity of Montreat Presbyterian Church, the Retreat Association, and the College from the beginning. The Montreat Presbyterian Church’s current mission statement reflects that same purpose, “Advancing the Kingdom of God, in the Power of the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of Jesus Christ.”
Of course, at that time there was no hint of liberal progressivism. These are the evangelical roots of the Mountain Retreat Association, Montreat Presbyterian Church and Montreat College. Now, 100 years later the College and the Congregation have been faithful to those roots, while the Mountain Retreat Association – now the Montreat Retreat Association—as an expression and extension of the PC(USA,) has departed from evangelical faithfulness.
As the PC (USA) denomination has, step by step, turned its back on its own Biblical and Reformed faith in Jesus Christ and adopted the false faith governed by inclusivism, among other agendas not central to our biblical faith, the Retreat Association’s leadership has landed in the pocket of the denomination. I have watched as the liberal progressives exemplify not liberal, but rather intolerant, un-Christian, and exclusive attitudes and postures toward Montreat Presbyterian Church. They have ridiculed, opposed, and tried to drive out of the town of Montreat the evangelical, Bible-believing, and Holy Spirit-empowered witness to Jesus Christ that this thriving, growing congregation embodies.
This is a long, dismal history of what can only and fairly be called persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ. You could also call this a long history of the PC(USA) cooperating with Satan to quench the clear witness to the Lord Jesus. Tragically, this persecution has not only targeted the evangelical Montreat Presbyterian Church, but has also come against all others who have dared to be faithful to the evangelical foundation and tradition of Montreat. I am an eyewitness to this.
For instance: The Global Missions Conference, dating back to 1901, and the gathering of missionaries in Montreat, used to be the high point of the summer. But in 1984-1985 after reunion, there was a shift away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the center of missions to social justice. Evangelical missionaries were no longer welcome at the Global Missions Conference. And the Home Assignment Conference for returning missionaries was a spiritual atrocity in which liberal/progressive speakers condemned the missionary movement itself. The poisonous venom of liberalism proved to be deadly when in 1993 the Global Missions Conference was discontinued entirely at Montreat.
In 1994-5 Montreat Presbyterian Church in cooperation with several of the Evangelical Renewal groups tried to restart the Global Missions Conference in Montreat, but the denomination slammed the door on their efforts, thus effectively reaffirming at the Montreat Retreat Center the intention of ending the tradition of faithfulness to Christ-centered missions going back to 1901. The Montreat Congregation and the Montreat College however continued this tradition with a strong focus on global missions centered in Jesus Christ.
Why do I provide this historical background?
How is it pertinent to the unjust lawsuit brought by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina claiming that they are the continuing church? It reveals a decades-long pattern of persecution by the liberal progressive movement that has taken over the leadership of PC (USA). It also clearly demonstrates who has been faithful to the original Christ centered vision of Montreat.
This persecution of the Church faithful to the evangelical tradition that founded Montreat is as evil, indeed, more so in my mind, than what I personally experienced in China, and have heard first hand from eyewitnesses in Muslim majority nations.
How can I claim to know the truth of how evil the persecution of this faithful congregation is?
I have been a prayer-partner with Pastor Richard White and other leaders of that congregation for many years. I have prayed with them and for them. I must tell all who will listen that the battle we are in is much bigger than what is taking place in this little mountain valley in North Carolina. It is a spiritual battle for the very truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I said earlier, I grew up seeing this persecution first hand. Now, as the Executive Director of Presbyterian- Reformed Ministries International, a renewal ministry within the PC(USA), I can also testify to how this same persecution has come against PRMI. But that is another story. You can also study all this in the well-documented book by Parker Williamson called Broken Covenant. Parker has documented what has happened to the great denomination, PC (USA), and shown why Montreat Presbyterian and now many more congregations around the country are seeking to keep the unity of the Body of Christ by leaving an apostate denomination.
Why did the Montreat PC decide to leave the PC(USA)?
For years, the Montreat Presbyterian Church, first led by Calvin Thielman, and then Richard White, sought to be faithful in their witness for Christ within the PC(USA) and in the increasingly hostile context of the town of Montreat. When the PC (USA) refused to uphold the clear affirmation in our own creeds that Jesus is the truth, the life, and the only way to God the Father, Montreat Presbyterian knew it was only a matter of time before they would have to leave the denomination. The 2001 General Assembly could not affirm the sole saving work of the Lord Jesus. That assembly represented a victory for liberal progressivism’s agenda of inclusiveness. Over the next few years, the Session sought the Lord’s direction for how to go forward, especially as the PC (USA) continued to take actions that departed from our faith basis articulated in the Great Ends of the Church.
Eventually, the congregation decided that they needed to leave for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church where the denominational environment was consistent with the evangelical founding tradition of Montreat, and would encourage and bolster their faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
It should be noted here that Montreat Presbyterian worships in Gaither Chapel, rented from Montreat College. Their offices and classrooms are housed in the Henry Building where effective ministries for youth and children are conducted. In addition, the Henry Building is home to their day school, offered to the families of the entire community. The Henry Building is the only property Montreat Presbyterian Church owns. It was built by donations from Montreat congregational members with no help whatsoever from the Presbytery and with the intention that it must be used to fulfill the Christ-exalting mission of Montreat Presbyterian Church.
The congregation followed to the letter all the requirements established by the Presbytery for dismissal to another Reformed denomination. After a long and careful process of discernment led by the session of the church which included all congregational members, they took a vote. Three hundred and eleven members indicated their clear desire to part ways with the PC (USA). Twenty-seven members voted to stay. (For myself I am a not a member of the congregation but a member of the Presbytery so could not vote.)
Remarkably, among those who voted to stay in the PC (USA), most were eager to remain in the congregation. Some were PC (USA) missionaries who, of course, under the authority of the PC(USA) Mission Board, had to vote to stay. The point is that none was actively working to split the congregation or to form a new congregation. (If they had, this would be a whole different situation).
Not a divided congregation but a hostile takeover by non-members
On the floor of Presbytery, when the Montreat case was being considered, Presbytery officials began to speak about a long list of people who represented the “true” Montreat Presbyterian Church, supposedly, the “continuing” congregation. I and others, stood to ask, “Who are these people?” The Presbytery refused to divulge their names, saying they feared they would be persecuted. I objected again and stated to the Presbytery that I had actually seen the list and that there was not a single member of Montreat Presbyterian Church listed on it. I was silenced by the moderator and not allowed to speak. The Presbytery has covered this fact up and I suspect that all such lists have since been destroyed.
The long list of people claiming to be the “true” Montreat Presbyterian Church consisted of about 250 people. Indeed, none is a member of Montreat Presbyterian or ever worshiped at Montreat Presbyterian. To clarify further, not one of the 27 who voted to stay in the PC (USA) is found among the 250 people listed. Some of these people live in locations far from Montreat, and a number are not even members of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. These outsiders with the complicity of the Presbytery, and I suspect the Montreat Retreat Association, launched a campaign to divide a congregation that was, in fact, not divided at all. They maintained they were the “continuing” PC (USA) congregation in Montreat. The word “continuing” would be of utmost strategic importance to them for the court case to follow. This movement was encouraged by the leader ship of the Presbytery, the PC (USA) Mountain Retreat Association and the leadership of the PC(USA).
How do I personally know this? I saw and read a letter this group mailed out, in which they stated their intention to take the name, the Henry Building and all their assets. Not stated in writing, but voiced again and again, is that this congregation is not welcome in the town of Montreat. This letter stated that this was done with the approved of the leaders of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. It had listed two columns of typed names who approved of this petition, none of whom were members of the Montreat Congregation.
To repeat: Not one of these 250 people claiming to be the “continuing” Montreat Presbyterian Church is a member of the congregation. Who are they? They were members of First Presbyterian Church in Ashville, 30 minutes away, Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, 5 minutes from Montreat, and Warren Wilson College Presbyterian Church. Not one has ever regularly participated in worship at Montreat Presbyterian Church, even though some do have homes in Montreat. Several of the retired pastors involved were not even members of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. Only later, after the Presbytery’s campaign to divide Montreat Presbyterian was launched, have these moved their membership to Western North Carolina Presbytery.
Now, it is true that several years later there are a few people who have shifted their membership to the new congregation. However, the point is that this founding body was not part of the congregation at all. So, the Presbytery’s assertion that the congregation would need to be divided into two, the “true” church, and those who wanted to leave, was an outright lie. This was a hostile takeover by a group from outside of the congregation, even from outside the communities of Montreat and Black Mountain.
This action is clearly inconsistent with our own Book of Order, which states that when there is a division in a church, the Presbytery will determine who the group is who is faithful to the PC(USA) and who is not. In the Montreat case, the list of some 250 people claiming to be the “continuing church” (while only 27 had voted to leave), should have been a red flag that there was some deception at work. But, when I and others pointed out these facts, we were shut down. Further, I personally know many of the people who voted to stay in the PC (USA)—I prayed with some of them. None of these people wanted to divide the congregation. None was working with this outside group to mount a hostile takeover of the Montreat Presbyterian Church. Many of them to this day worship every Sunday at Montreat Presbyterian Church (EPC).
It is the Presbytery that divided the church that was not divided. Presbytery is responsible for bringing schism to the Body of Christ in Montreat.
If a group of evangelicals who were not members and had not worshiped at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, or the Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church had tried to divide and take over the assets of these congregations, there would have been howls of protest—it would not have been tolerated. Such is the antipathy toward Montreat Presbyterian’s orthodox, Biblical and Reformed identity.
The “Continuing Montreat Presbyterian Church – The Tradition Continues” is a lie and a deception.
This outside group, indeed, formed a new congregation that they called the, “Continuing Montreat Presbyterian Church.” “The Tradition Continues” was their tag line. I dare to name the truth: their motto is a lie.
The tradition of Montreat Presbyterian Church, “Advancing the Kingdom of God, in the Power of the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of Jesus Christ” reflects the original spiritual and doctrinal foundations of the Mountain Retreat Association, the Montreat Community Church and the Montreat Presbyterian Church PC(US).
The truth is the congregation chose to leave the PC(USA) because that denomination’s leadership abandoned faithfulness, the tradition of faithfulness to the Biblical Jesus, the historic creeds and our Reformed confessions.
For this counterfeit church to claim the tradition of Montreat as their own is outrageous and a great deception. Many of those now claiming to be the “continuing church” actually chose to leave that evangelical tradition by not joining Montreat Presbyterian Church all the years it was a PC (USA) congregation.
The Presbytery has consistently distorted and covered up these facts.
Back to the Presbytery meeting where Montreat Presbyterian Church asked to be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A statement filled with factual errors was presented to the Presbytery. I made a motion to the body requesting that the Rev. Richard White be given a few minutes to correct the mistakes. The Presbytery debated and fought for 45 minutes before a vote was taken and narrowly passed to allow Richard to correct the factual errors in the Presbytery document. I cite this incident of having to fight to give the Pastor the opportunity to correct the factual errors in the Presbytery’s report because it reflects the Presbytery’s pattern of not providing information unless forced to do so. Even at this most recent Presbytery meeting, they managed not to answer requests for information. “How much is this lawsuit costing the Presbytery?” would seem to have been a question to which every member of Presbytery deserved an answer. No straightforward response was given.
From the beginning, the Montreat EPC Congregation has been eager to bless the new congregation and to cooperate on ALL matters.
After much rancor, the Presbytery did vote to dismiss the congregation. The elders of Montreat Presbyterian Church were willing, indeed eager, to be gracious, even to the extent of helping the outside group who wanted a PC (USA) congregation in Montreat to build a new meeting place.
These gracious offers included donating funds to renovate and add to one of the MRA’s existing buildings to provide worship space for the new PC (USA) congregation. This would have been a great benefit to the whole community. This is a rather amazing offer considering that it is coming from a congregation that does not itself even own its own place to worship, but must rent from the Montreat College. In addition, for most of its history, 1901 until 1995, the congregation did not have a place for its own children and youth programs until the Henry Building was built. Even now they do not own their own place for the Adult Sunday School programs – all that is borrowed from the Montreat College. What is more there were and still are prayers offered nearly each Sunday from the pulpit praying blessing upon the new congregation.
This graciousness was met by bitter rejection. Indeed, they were told loudly and clearly that the congregation was wanted out of the town of Montreat.
Later the Presbytery told blatant lies that the congregation was so unwilling to negotiate that they had no choice but to bring a lawsuit to take the Henry Building, the name, and everything the congregation had.
They said “After several months, during which offers to discuss compromise on the sharing of these vital resources were repeatedly rejected by the EPC congregation our Presbytery sadly decided in October 2007 that it had no option but to file suit to recover the property.” That is just not true! That is a lie that they had no option but to file a suit to recover the property.
The EPC congregation did try to discuss these issues! They did seek to work things out but were met with unyielding demands from the Presbytery that they essentially cease to exist as an evangelical congregation in the town of Montreat. Now of course there are two sides of this! And no doubt mistakes have been made on both sides, but what has been deceptive and evil is the one-sided presentation made by the Presbytery justifying their decision to go to court. They did have options but they closed the doors on those options and then lied to all of us about what the actual situation was. To this day they have not named what the real issue is or admitted the truth of why they are taking this unbiblical step of taking your brothers and sisters to court.
What is the real issue in this conflict?
I have watched all this first-hand! Never has the real issue been mentioned by the Presbytery: Biblically orthodox faithfulness to the Lord Jesus vs. liberal progressivism.
For the Presbytery, the issue is the trust clause in the Book of Order and overall obedience to the denomination’s agenda. Never has it been stated in their documents, that the Montreat Presbyterian Church was eager to work out a way for the two congregations to bless each other. Never has it been acknowledged that Montreat EPC was willing to make some major sacrifices to assist the new congregation and to maintain the unity in the body of Jesus Christ.
The real issue is Jesus and faithfulness to Him. But no one at Presbytery would ever admit that.
The real issue is Montreat Presbyterian Church’s faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His Body over and against the false doctrine of the PC (USA), the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, and the Mountain Retreat Association, a replacement theology of liberal progressivism, and a building block in the demonic stronghold to persecute the Church of Jesus Christ.
The real issue is that for decades, the more the denomination departed from its biblical foundations, the more the power structure of the Montreat Retreat Association and the denomination found this congregation being faithful to its own Evangelical tradition an offense that must be removed.
All of this could have been avoided! All the Presbytery needed to do was dismiss Montreat Presbyterian Church with its only property, the Henry Building for its Children and Youth Programs, the office of administration.
If the Presbytery had encouraged the growth of the newly established PC(USA) congregation in the town of Montreat and allowed them to select a name for themselves, the First Presbyterian Church of Montreat, for example, these two congregations could have lived in complete harmony together. If the new congregation had been allowed to work with Montreat Presbyterian Church which was graciously reaching out to them in love and respect, then all issues of names and worship spaces could have been resolved in such a way that Jesus Christ would have been glorified.
That could have been the case. However, the liberal-progressive dominated PC (USA) would not have it. It is not in their DNA. The Presbytery has chosen to hide from its own members the actual hostile takeover by an outside group, an action they condoned.
Instead of listening to the voices of those of us urging grace and seeking the glory of God, the Presbytery listened to their own strident and arrogant voices calling for a civil lawsuit to confiscate the Henry Building and the name, Montreat Presbyterian Church, for themselves. Now, instead of seeking a gracious way that is Biblical and glorifying to Jesus, they are spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and a vast waste of time away from the Church’s mission to a lost world.
The new PC (USA) Montreat congregation along with the Presbytery, the MRA, and the PC (USA) denomination are sowing seeds of bitterness. I believe they will reap and are already reaping what they have sown.
If this were happening in China or in a Muslim country like Egypt, we would name it for what it is: persecution of the Church and an attempt to block the advance of the Kingdom of God. But this is happening in Montreat, North Carolina, and in many other locations in America where PC (USA) congregations have decided to follow the Lord Jesus instead of a denomination that has departed from its faith foundations.
God will hold in judgment those who persecute His church by trying to destroy the empowered witness to His Son Jesus! Whether its source is a mob of fanatical Muslims burning churches and killing Christians, or the clever tactics of high paid lawyers using the trust clause in the PC (USA)’s Book of Order to steal property, the intent of both is the same: to destroy those who are faithful in their witness to Jesus Christ as the truth, the life, and the only way to God the Father.
A Call to Intercession: Guidance from Naboth’s Vineyard 1 Kings 23
For a very long time, the Lord has placed me in an intensive mode of praying for Montreat. Now, I believe He is calling me to share this word with you who are intercessors. In the article above, I have taken the risk of supplying a lot of details to reveal the full extent of this evil, the persecution that is taking place right here in Montreat. The silence must be broken. Whether the persecution of Christians originates from Radical Islam or Liberal Progressivism, we must act.
How then shall we pray?
Let us approach the Father in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit to ask that the congregation of Montreat Presbyterian Church (EPC) may hold firm and will not compromise their witness to Jesus Christ, specifically according to their mission statement: Advancing the Kingdom of God, in the Power of the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of Jesus Christ, beginning at home, in Montreat, and extending out into the world.
Further, let us pray that God the Father may protect from harm the people in leadership of the Montreat EPC Church, namely, Pastor Richard White, elders, trustees and other members, some of whom are personally named in the lawsuit. Pray especially for their families, that the Holy Spirit may protect them from Satan’s attack during these turbulent days.
As you pray, you may wish to keep in mind the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21, an appropriate Biblical illustration for what is taking place in Montreat.
Naboth, a loyal member of the kingdom, owns a vineyard next to King Ahab’s palace. Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard for his own garden, but Naboth refuses to sell it to the King.
“The LORD forbid that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance.” 1Ki 21:3
Ahab, for all his shortcomings, would not violate the law of God by confiscating the vineyard as another nation’s king may have done. Ahab, however, had married Jezebel, a worshipper of Baal. She is known for seeking to kill the prophets of Yahweh. In Ahab’s name, Jezebel hatches a plan to accuse Naboth of cursing God and King, crimes punishable by stoning. After Naboth is stoned, Jezebel urges Ahab to take the vineyard as his own. And he does.
With that Biblical witness in our hearts and minds, let us pray that God the Father Almighty will intervene by preventing the present day Ahabs and Jezebels from removing the Naboths of Montreat Presbyterian Church (EPC). Pray in the name of Jesus Christ that their schemes to steal and destroy the vineyard of effective witness to Jesus Christ in Montreat will be broken.
Further, let us pray that the many Ahabs who have compromised their faith in Jesus Christ for the deception of Liberal Progressivism will be restored to faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. Pray that the Jezebels who have infiltrated the leadership of the PC(USA) will repent, be converted, or removed, so that their poisonous influence may cease.
Finally, let us pray for great love and wisdom and guidance as to how to pray. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to protect our families and us as we engage this most dangerous of demonic strongholds which I believe Jesus Christ intends to defeat for His glory.
The court date is coming up in October. We all need to be extra vigilant as that time approaches. I will keep you in the loop.
Revised September 10, 2012