Friday, February 18, 2011

Grave Words from "Crossed Fingers"

Conservative Presbyterian denominations eventually become divided between Confessionalists and Church growth advocates. In our era, the Confessionalists regard the Church growth people as touchy-feelie sell-outs, while the Church growth people regard the Confessionalists as nit-picking, low-pension losers. Liturgically, the war between two extremes is a debate over the psalm book vs. the overhead projector. [North inserts a footnote: "Two centuries ago, the psalm book had no musical notation. Today, the overhead projector songs have no musical notation."]Each side wishes the other would just go away.

Once this division appears, the Confessionalists always lose control of the denomination. There are no known exceptions. The lure of large churches, large pensions, and assistants who do most of the marriage counseling prevails. The Church growth people concentrate on what they do best: growing their churches by whatever works. The Confessionalists concentrate on what they do best: overwhelming one-time visitors with unfamiliar theology. In Presbyterian government, votes count. The Church growth people eventually gain more votes. The Confessionalists then have three choices: (1) spend their lives being outvoted at General Assembly; (2) quit attending General Assembly; or (3) leave to form a new denomination, which will subsequently divide at least once--the Machen-McIntire phenomenon. In the two (or more) new groups, the cycle then begins anew.

The problem is point two of the biblical covenant model: representation/authority.
Presbyterians like to pretend that all votes are equal. This is an old Whig belief, and it has always flourished in the face of the facts. Twentieth-century modernists have known better: elite core groups provide direction for the voters. The elite core groups in Presbyterianism have not changed significantly for over four centuries: ordained men who possess advanced academic degrees issued by non-Presbyterian institutions ("doctors") -- John Calvin is the classic example -- and pastors of large congregations. Over the last century, the former have had a tendency to go liberal; the latter have had a tendency to go pietistic, i.e., non-controversial. To these two groups has been added a third in the twentieth century: senior bureaucrats in the permanent denominational boards. These three groups have become the operational models of success in Presbyterianism.

Young men seeking to enter the Presbyterian ministry must first go through the screening process controlled by the first group. The doctors, not the presbyteries, impose the sanctions. If the students survive, they are then forced to seek jobs. Who has jobs to offer? Hardly anyone; we are talking about Presbyterians, not Baptists. But if there are any jobs available, they will be offered by the remaining two elite groups: pastors of large congregations and senior bureaucrats. The small-congregation Confessional preachers have only this to say: "Silver and gold have we none, and not many Federal Reserve Notes, either." Men respond to positive sanctions. They can see who has positive sanctions to offer. They can also see who doesn't.

Gary North, Crossed Fingers: How the Liberal Captured the Presbyterian Church (Appendix B: How to Immunize Presbyterianism)


  1. Anyone is actually is a confessionalist must read Crossed Fingers.

    While your quote discusses the "who", the strategy is also worthwhile keeping in mind.

    The success of this strategy rests on a crucial assumption: the resisters must be perceived as operating from the moral high ground. As master strategist Saul Alinsky wrote, "All effective actions require the passport of morality."*7* Therefore, it is imperative for the targets of the strategy of non-violent non-cooperation to respond with a counter-appeal based on a superior morality.


    By the 1920's, the conservatives had been crossing their fingers for over two generations on the issue of the six-day creation. They refused to admit this publicly, but they in fact regarded the Confession's statement--and therefore Genesis 1--as "just another theory" of origins. ... They opened the door to Progressivism. Also, ever since 1876, they had not successfully shown that higher criticism of the Bible as a methodology of moral evolutionism was the ideological foundation of an attack on the Church and Christendom. They refused to conduct heresy trials except for flagrant heresy expressed flagrantly. They were not willing to resist, thereby revealing a lack of moral fervor and commitment: moral mid-ground. By the 1920 [sic], the conservatives no longer occupied the moral high ground. They were vulnerable.

    North, Gary Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church 1996 ICE, Pg 897ff

    *7* Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, p 44. Emphasis in the original.

    But as Scott Clark says, six days creationism should not be used as a boundary marker for being reformed. On one level he is right, since it is rather a boundary marker for being orthodox.

  2. This book should be required reading for all Ministers and Ruling Elders.

  3. Thank you for the link to "Crossed Fingers." I shall read it, and pass it on.

  4. I was only dissuaded from reading it because it was like 8 yards thick. It does seem quite amusing and informative, though...

  5. Tim: I assure you, it is worth the effort!