Not all the 1975 reports are in yet, but staff members at Atlanta’s Presbyterian Center are trying hard to find the good news amid the bad. It was a difficult year for the theologically torn Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern), and its headquarters staff had to be happy with such small encouragements as the report that $7,000 more than expected was received toward a $7 million budget.

That budget had been cut from $9 million to $7 million last April when a deficit of $2 million in the previous year’s operations came to light. Missionaries overseas and staff members at home were reduced in number, and those remaining on the payroll took a 5 per cent cut in pay starting May 1.

When all the bills were added up in January of this year, the accountants found it would be possible to restore that 5 per cent in back pay. And it was more good news for the staffers on Ponce de Leon Avenue when they learned that their 1976 checks would include an additional 5 per cent boost.

The remaining headquarters staff is about half the size of the combined rosters of denominational agencies five years ago. All the major program agencies were merged by order of the General Assembly, and the formerly separate boards of education, women’s work, home and foreign missions, and communications were dissolved.

Assigned to supervise all the church’s principal programs now is a body known as the General Executive Board (GEB). The ability of the single “super board” to oversee all denominational work at home and abroad has been questioned since before it was created, but continuing declines in funding for it have brought new criticism.

Giving to denominational-level (as distinguished from congregational and regional) work continued to decline last year; the 1975 total, $6.5 million, was down half a million from 1974. In order to spend more than it received in contributions from the pews, the GEB dipped further into denominational reserves, sold some property, experienced better-than-expected investment returns, and received some gifts.

With little relief in view, the top administrators began 1976 under orders to continue the cost-carving. Financial controls were so stringent that some stationery orders were held up so as to put them into a later billing cycle. Calendars for some headquarters desks did not arrive until the year was a week old because of the policy.

While few Presbyterians knew about the tardiness of calendar delivery in Atlanta, many knew about the cuts in the overseas missionary force. At the beginning of 1975 the denomination had 397 missionaries under appointment. At the beginning of 1976 it had 355.

Notices went out at the end of last month, telling still more missionaries that they are being dropped. By the end of this year the total will be down to 310. Some of the reduction is coming through normal attrition, but some missionaries home on furlough are not being sent back.

The missionaries have always been among the best fund-raisers in the denomination, and their reports have stimulated giving to all denominational causes. Some of the strongest criticism of the GEB has come from churchmen who charge it is not giving a high enough priority to overseas work.

In response, Paul Edris, moderator of the last General Assembly, has tried to assure the membership that the missionary enterprise is getting as large a proportion of the budget as it did before last year’s cuts. The Florida pastor explained in a letter to the denomination that high rates of inflation overseas have simply eaten up more of the missionary dollar.

Another special offering for overseas missions is planned this month. The campaign for earmarked funds was more successful in 1975 than in 1974, and church executives will be keeping a close eye on the 1976 drive as they plan spending for the rest of the year.

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While the statistics are in on money sent to General Assembly agencies, headquarters statisticians are still awaiting the reports on how much Southern Presbyterians gave for congregational and regional work last year. It will probably be May before all the figures are compiled.

Among the final figures that will be presented to the General Assembly in June will be one showing total membership. That count has been going down for several years, and in 1973 and 1974 much of the loss was blamed on the departure of members to join the new Presbyterian Church in America. While the year-end total for PCA membership has not been tabulated either, the figure is expected to be around 75,000. In 1974 the Presbyterian U. S. figure dropped below 900,000 with a loss of about 15,000.

PCA assembly agencies experienced a happier year financially in 1975 than did their Presbyterian U. S. counterparts. Collectively, the four major program committees got $1.6 million, which was 65 per cent more than in 1974. The amount of increased giving to the agencies ranged from 40 to 115 per cent.

A noteworthy happening that will not show up in the 1975 reports is the move of one prominent Presbyterian last month. C. Gregg Singer of Salisbury, North Carolina, transferred his membership from a Presbyterian U. S. to an Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) congregation. Singer had chosen to remain in the Presbyterian U. S. church when many of his fellow members of the conservative organization, Concerned Presbyterians, left to join the PCA two years ago. The history professor at Catawba College was subsequently elected president of Concerned Presbyterians.

Last year Singer was formally charged with disturbing the peace of the church, and his trial was scheduled to start last month. Sources close to the litigation said both the prosecutor (for Concord Presbytery) and the defense attorney sought to avoid a trial that would discredit the church. An agreement was supposed to have been reached under which the presbytery would drop its charges if the professor left the church. After Singer joined the local ARP congregation (there is no PCA church in Salisbury), a commission of the presbytery announced it had “tabled” charges against him. Implicit in the action was a warning that if he should rejoin the denomination he would face the prospect of trial again.

While Singer was probably the first to leave the Presbyterian U. S. church in 1976, the presbytery’s action in his case may determine what other evangelicals in the denomination will do and thus have a bearing on the 1976 membership and giving statistics.

ARTHUR H. MATTHEWS

Wanted: Solomonic Soothing

Two men seeking ministerial posts in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. ignited controversy last year when during examination they took a stand against the ordination of women. Both were subsequently approved: John Gess by the Highlands Presbytery of Virginia, and Thomas T. Ellis by the Atlanta Presbytery. Ruling on a complaint in the case of Gess, a regional judicial commission of the denomination upheld his ordination. Critics argued that the pair’s views on women contradicted church policy and that they were therefore disqualified for ministry in the PCUS.

Last month the PCUS Committee on Women’s Concerns took the matter to the Permanent Judicial Commission, a sort of denominational supreme court. The women’s committee asked for clarification of certain provisions in the Book of Church Order that may “contradict the ordaining and employing of ministers who do not support the ordination of women.” Also, claimed the women’s committee, ministers who discriminate against women fail to comply with the equal employment opportunity policy of the church.

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The query amounts to a constitutional showdown in the already troubled denomination (see preceding story). Under the circumstances, the judicial panel can be expected to take its time in coming up with a Solomonic answer that everybody can live with.

Guilty

James A. Paynter, 34, former business manager of the Illinois Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi, pleaded guilty to a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property and was sentenced to four years in prison by a federal judge. Paynter dropped out of sight in August, 1974, during preparation for a move to assume oversight of all funds of the Illinois association of Southern Baptist churches. A subsequent audit of the children’s home records revealed $103,753 missing between January 1, 1972, and August 31, 1974 (Paynter became business manager of the home in 1967). A bonding company reimbursed $87,000.

The federal charge was lodged when it was discovered that Paynter had deposited in dummy accounts in Indiana nearly $37,000 from two bequests intended for the children’s home. He then used money from these accounts to make a large downpayment on a house in Illinois. He still faces embezzling charges in that state.

Prior to his guilty plea, Paynter and his wife reportedly were living in Monroe, Louisiana, where he was managing a pizza restaurant and attending a Presbyterian church.

The Armstrong Battle Of Britain

The summer before last, Charles F. Hunting and Richard F. Plache, the No. 1 and No. 2 men of the Armstrong Worldwide Church of God in Great Britain, began to doubt official church teachings on matters such as the Saturday Sabbath, observance of Old Testament holy days, and the Old Covenant approach to the law.

After a “crisis of conscience,” the two men, plus an aide, David Ord, began “to tell the people the truth.”

By last December, word had reached the Pasadena, California, world headquarters of the monolithic sect that Hunting and Plache were preaching contrary to church doctrine and were subverting the church. Garner Ted Armstrong and his globe-girdling father Herbert converged with a plane-load of other top WCG officials on the Bricket Wood, England, headquarters to check out what Gamer Ted called the rumored imminent “break-away” of the British churches.

There was no such thing, but Hunting, 57, Plache, 40, and Ord, 29, were intractable—even after they were flown at year’s end to Pasadena for high-level hearings before the church’s doctrinal committee. Hunting, onetime director of financial affairs and planning for the church in Europe and the Middle East, and Plache, a former executive assistant to Garner Ted, were suspended from the ministry; Ord was fired.

Ten days later, Hunting and Plache formally withdrew from the church and issued a public apology to the 3,000 or so WCG constituents in England “whose lives have been damaged by our years of service with the … church and the Plain Truth magazine.”

The resignations came two years after the first major walk-out of more than twenty-five WCG ministers, including the vice-president, over doctrinal differences, allegations of adultery involving Gamer Ted, and revulsion at what the defectors called the “Playboy” style of living by the Armstrongs and others in top positions (see March 15, 1974, issue, page 49).

To Hunting and Plache, who planned to alert as many as possible in the United Kingdom to the “errors” of Armstrongism, the major concern was whether the Bible is the main authority over Christians or whether the Armstrongs are, as practiced in the church.

“When there is a conflict between the clear teaching of the Scriptures and the statements of the Armstrongs,” said Plache, “people should follow Herbert Armstrong’s injunction, ‘Don’t believe me, but believe your Bible.’ ” But, concluded the dissidents, it could take years to get the Armstrongs to examine thoroughly teachings that are seriously in question, “even though lives are being adversely affected.”

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Doctrines particularly galling to Hunting and Plache concern the WCG’s views on divorce and healing. Although the 1974 controversy apparently provoked reforms in both teachings (see October 25, 1974, issue, page 48), the men asserted that “hundreds of lives had been shattered” needlessly by the former rule that second marriages following divorce must be broken up because such relationships are adulterous. And, they charged, lives were lost because members didn’t realize that the church had changed its position so that they could now consult physicians and take medication.

“Even now, the bulk of the membership do not know that they can seek medical help without any biblical stigma whatever,” said Hunting. Leading ministers and wives have been receiving medical help, he added—sometimes secretly—while members have been left to believe that medical help may show a “lack of faith.”

Plache says the “double standard” of the ministry needs to be exposed: “While the little people go without sufficient meat, or their children lack clothing—particularly in Britain—many ministers live in luxury, believing themselves to be in the category of Levites and therefore entitled to a far higher standard of living than the average member.…”

A spin-off organization of the WCG, the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF), ostensibly set up to aid broadly based humanitarian and philanthropic agencies world-wide, was also attacked by the defecting ministers.

“While it has a public front of doing good works and serving humanity, many within the church are being asked to sacrifice to ‘the Work,’ ” said Plache. This caused him conscience problems, he said, because the WCG is “extremely exclusivist in its doctrines about what constitutes the Christian and “is the very antithesis of what the AICF claims to stand for.”

Repudiating the concept that the only true Christians are Armstrong followers, and that most outside the WCG are essentially pagan, Hunting and Plache asserted that “this kind of exclusivist teaching had had a devastating effect on the lives of thousands, deeply affecting many families.”

Ord, the fired assistant, put it succinctly: “They [the Armstrongs] are imposing Old Testament laws on New Testament Christians without New Testament authority.… We want to put a greater emphasis on the role of Christ.”

As for the Armstrongs, they feel Hunting and Plache had a fair, complete, and open-minded hearing. Garner Ted also discounted any possibility of major doctrinal changes.

RUSSELL L. CHANDLER

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