A church in Illinois voted overwhelmingly Sunday to disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the session of a Texas church has voted to recommend that its congregation follow the same route out of the denomination.
Church votes to disaffiliate
During Sunday’s (10/18/15) congregational meeting, members of Westminster Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Ill., voted 123-17 to disaffiliate from the PCUSA and join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The action took effect immediately.
The actions were taken “without rancor and with great respect between those who voted in the affirmative and those who dissented,” read a letter written the following day to the Rev. Dr. John Rickard, stated clerk of Blackhawk Presbytery. “We are proud of the conduct of our congregation and their strong commitment to following where the will of God leads them.”
The letter was signed the Rev. Dr. Charles C. Legvold, senior pastor of the 313 member church and Laura Machuca the clerk of session.
“We understand that our departure from the denomination and Blackhawk Presbytery will cause some pain and stress for you and others in leadership,” the letter stated, “but we assure you that, for the most part, our issues were not with the presbytery in particular, but with the continuing drift of the denomination away from orthodox belief and practice. We are open to the possibility of working with one another in ongoing mission within the current bounds of the presbytery, though we will be doing so as a part of another denomination.”
Legvold and Machuca stressed that the church was committed to working with those who do not wish to be part of an ECO congregation and that a letter would be sent to the congregation, inviting all to be part of the ECO congregation, but also offering to grant transfers to those who wished to leave.
Session recommends disaffiliation
The session of the 2,100 member First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas voted 21-2 on Oct. 12 to recommend to the congregation that it disaffiliate with the PCUSA and join ECO. The congregation will vote on the recommendation on Nov. 1.
In an Oct. 15 letter to the congregation, the session said that “We believe our denomination is not what it once was, and it has wandered from its Biblical and confessional moorings. We are not alone in this belief. Hundreds of churches have left the PCUSA in recent years and many others, like FPC, currently are in the process of determining how to respond to denominational changes.”
The letter cited PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada who has acknowledged that conservative churches are considering leaving the denomination because of its “theological drift of the past 10 years; concerns over how the PCUSA will find pastoral candidates who support the orthodox interpretation of Scripture; the denomination’s expenditure of funds; and the decline of membership.”
The letter was clear in stating that those same issues have been a concern at First Presbyterian. “We have been losing members over the past three years over denominational issues. If we do nothing, we are concerned this trend will accelerate.”
In a FAQ attached to the congregational letter, the session expressed its concerns that the PCUSA “has taken actions to move away from foundational values found in Scripture and expressed in our Confessions, and has embraced a less orthodox theology, along with a more political ideology.”
Those concerns include:
- the authority of Scripture;
- the centrality of Jesus as Lord and Savior;
- the mission of the church;
- the governance of the church;
- the decline of the denomination;
- PCUSA’s claim of a beneficial interest in and right of control over FPC’s property; and
- the consequences of the changes within the denomination.
The church is involved in a legal dispute with Mission Presbytery in civil court concerning who owns the property.
On May 11, FPC-San Antonio’s session voted unanimously to file a lawsuit in the civil courts to determine ownership of the church’s property. A ruling on the case is expected at any time.
And in the ecclesiastical realm, a complaint has been filed by a member of the presbytery against First-San Antonio’s Interim Pastor Ron Scates, accusing him of violating his ordination vows.
The presbytery has appointed a committee which will investigate the allegations and then make a recommendation to the presbytery as to what actions should be taken.