During a Feb. 16, 2013, meeting of the Presbytery of Charlotte, Ridgecrest’s ties with the PCUSA were severed when the presbytery voted to allow a gracious dismissal of the congregation.
Located in the rural Stanly County town of Locust east of Charlotte, Ridgecrest’s congregation unanimously voted for dismissal and affiliation with the EPC. The church, founded in 1949, has a membership of 26.
Larry Pittman, the stated supply pastor for Ridgecrest since 2009, said elders in the church have had issues with the PCUSA for a number of years, but the vote to allow the ordination of homosexuals was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and led the congregation down the path to dismissal.
However, it was not a matter of simply jumping into the process full throttle. Pittman said the session conducted a number of surveys to determine how the congregation felt about such a leap. The results were unanimous each time.
“Everything we did showed we should leave, and some (members) said if the church did not leave (the PCUSA) they would leave the church,” Pittman said.
The Ridgecrest session informed the presbytery of its intent once it was certain of the direction God was leading. It took some time for the presbytery to respond, Pittman said, but once the process was set in motion things proceeded smoothly.
Initially, there was a plan to pay the presbytery $10,000 over a five-year period, but that was reduced to $5,000 over five years because of the congregation’s small membership total. The presbytery and church agreed to those terms, and Ridgecrest was dismissed in mid-February to align itself with the EPC.
“We appreciate the treatment we received from the presbytery. It was very understanding and gracious,” Pittman said. “I think they truly regretted to see us leave because of those relationships that had been built. There are some very kind-hearted people on the other side. They may not have agreed with our decision, but they understood it was better to let us depart than allow bitterness to continue.”
That bitterness Pittman referred to could be directed toward the direction the PCUSA has turned through the years and the stance taken on a variety of issues.
He said most members of the church had been in opposition to the 1983 merger between the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in the United States but had tried to make the most of life in the PCUSA to no avail. There were a variety of issues that crept into play through the years.
“The congregation had been disgruntled for a long time,” Pittman said. “There was a liberal trend downward and away from the Word of God, and (Ridgecrest’s membership) did not want to be part of it. They got fed up and decided to get out.”
“It’s a new-age movement that is pretty much taking over in the PCUSA, and Ridgecrest is one church that does not want to be part of it.”
Pittman said the PCUSA’s views on abortion, ordination standards, Scriptural authority and the trust clause regarding church property factored heavily into the decision to seek a new denominational home.
“We want to hold true to the Word of God and to its authority and truth,” Pittman said. “The apostasy of the PCUSA is something we could not tolerate. It is totally contrary to the Word of God, and we wanted no part of it.”
Pittman pointed out that the EPC was more in line with the beliefs of Ridgecrest’s congregation, even more so than the Association of Reformed Presbyterians (ARP) and the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), two other possible denominational homes considered by the Ridgecrest.
“The EPC is more focused on the authority of Scripture and adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which we felt was important to provide more historical consistency,” he said. “The EPC also allows more freedom to retain female elders, which is important to us.”
Pittman said the Ridgecrest congregation is looking forward to the future in a new denomination.
“Our members are very relieved to have this past them, and they have much more optimism about our church having a future now,” Pittman said. “If we are going to be a Biblically faithful church, we had to be part of a Biblically faithful denomination. We feel better about where we are.”