Even though the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has received hundreds of congregations through dismissal from Presbyterian Church (USA) presbyteries since 2007, Shenandoah Presbytery has voted not to include the conservative denomination in its list of “denominations to which churches of the presbytery may be considered for dismissal.”
According to presbytery documents, Shenandoah Presbytery formed an ad hoc committee in August “for the purpose of considering and recommending to the presbytery those denominations to which churches of the Presbytery may be considered for dismissal under the existing ‘Policy for Discernment toward Reconciliation or Gracious separation of Congregations in Shenandoah Presbytery.’
The committee did its work and brought its recommendation to the presbytery on Saturday.
“The Ad Hoc Committee, through the stated clerk, brings this motion: We unanimously recommend approving the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church of America, and the United Church of Christ as Reformed bodies to which this presbytery may dismiss a congregation.”
Following the committee’s unanimous recommendation, a floor debate ensued and in the end, the motion to approve the EPC as a denomination to which a church can be dismissed failed by a vote of 62-63.
Why? Well, follow the money.
Shenandoah Presbytery does dismiss congregations. It did so as recently as December. The receiving denomination was ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg was dismissed from Shenandoah Presbytery to ECO for a mutually agreed upon $350,000 settlement.
Not everyone thought that was enough and they are now taking out their frustration on others who are seeking dismissal.
Enter Warm Springs. Culling through the presbytery meeting papers you find that Warm Springs Presbyterian Church has been headed for the door for some time. They have faithfully been going through the steps of the presbytery’s dismissal process and then suddenly, the presbytery called a special meeting to take original jurisdiction, replace the session and remove the pastor. That meeting is to be held Saturday (2-23-16). (Download the AC report here.)
Some members of the Administrative Commission in the Warm Springs case are the same individuals who argued this past Saturday for the EPC to be rejected as a denomination to which Shenandoah congregations can be dismissed.
Again, follow the money.
According to the AC’s report to the presbytery, the Warm Springs church has substantial assets including an unrestricted endowment.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, put it simply, “It appears that the presbytery is trying to kill the church to get the money. We have reached the horrific reality of an institution willing to destroy its own churches to sustain itself. Its basic cannibalism.”
The work of the ad hoc committee is worthy of consideration:
Report from the Denominational Vetting Ad Hoc Committee
At the August meeting, the Shenandoah Presbytery approved formation of an ad hoc committee for the purpose of considering and recommending to the Presbytery those denominations to which congregations of the Presbytery may be dismissed under the existing “Policy for Discernment toward Reconciliation or Gracious separation of Congregations in Shenandoah Presbytery”.
Three teaching elders—Amy Fetterman (chair), Andy Sale, David Shearer—and three ruling elders—Linda Koogler (Mt. Carmel), Peggy Roberson (Covenant), Bill Vance (Massanutten) gathered together in study, prayer, and discussion over the course of several months. We were guided by the authoritative interpretation from the 218th General Assembly. Presbyteries may dismiss congregations to other ecclesiastical bodies of this denomination, and to denominations whose organization is conformed to the doctrines and order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
In exploring this matter, presbyteries should consider such questions as whether the receiving presbytery is
- doctrinally consistent with the essentials of Reformed theology as understood by the presbytery;
- governed by a polity that is consistent in form and structure with that of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A);
- of sufficient permanence to offer reasonable assurance that the congregation is not being dismissed to de facto independence.” (GA, 2008, 14, 15, 544, 546, Item 07-13)
Guided by this authoritative interpretation, two big questions lay before us: which denominations do we examine and how do we discern if they conform to the doctrines and order of the PC(U.S.A.)? Which denominations do we examine?
Dozens of Reformed denominations exist in the United States. We needed guidelines to help focus our time and effort. Through conversation with other presbyteries and the office of the General Assembly, we determined:
- That the Vetting Ad Hoc Committee will accept the 10 denominations which currently are “in correspondence” with the PC(U.S.A.) through the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in accordance with G-5.02021 as a working list of comparable denominations which define themselves as within the Reformed family theology and practice and which accept the integrity and authenticity of the PC(U.S.A.). It was of particular importance to us that any denomination to which we might dismiss a congregation recognized the PC(U.S.A.) as a sister Reformed denomination.
- That the Vetting Ad Hoc Committee would only pursue comparison with the PC(U.S.A.) theology and practice among those “in correspondence” denominations which have cultural or geographic affinity with congregations of Shenandoah Presbytery. The four denomination “in correspondence” with the PC(U.S.A.) which share a geographical and cultural affinity are: the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), the Reformed Church of America (RCA), and the United Church of Christ (UCC). Each of these denominations has been established for many years and we felt comfortable that dismissing to them would not be dismissing to de facto independence.
How do we discern if these four denominations conform to the doctrines and order of the PC(U.S.A.)? Appreciative of the work done by the presbytery group which examined the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians and inspired by the document “Comparison of Basic Beliefs and Viewpoints of Three Presbyterian Denominations: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA), Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), and Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)” produced by the Office of Theology and Worship in 2015, we developed a series of comparison questions. We developed questions which sought to
- a) examine doctrinal consistency with the essentials of Reformed theology and polity and
- b) highlight areas of comparison which might be meaningful to congregations discerning dismissal.
To wit, a few of the questions we asked (e.g. are clergy allowed to marry gay/lesbian couples) are more for information than discernment over dismissal. Our hope is that these questions might serve as a template if the presbytery wishes to look at other denominations in the future. We have included references to our Book of Order and Book of Confessions for each of our questions.
After developing comparison questions, we examined official documents and denominational websites and contacted denominational offices for answers to these questions. We shared our findings within our committee. Though each denomination had noteworthy differences from our own, we discerned these differences were not significant enough to keep us from dismissing congregations to these denominations.
Thus, We unanimously recommend approving the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church of America, and the United Church of Christ as Reformed bodies to which this presbytery may dismiss a congregation. We have included these questions and answers with our report. We have highlighted particular differences which we discussed at length.
Read the questions and answers beginning on page 34 of the presbytery meeting papers: http://shenpres.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Feb2016Hbk.pdf
Feb 7 letter from the church to the presbytery:
On Wednesday, 1/27/16, the Session of Warm Springs Presbyterian Church (WSPC) met with an Administrative Commission (AC) from Shenandoah Presbytery at the Augusta Stone Presbyterian Church in Verona, VA. We, the Session, came with hopes of reaching a peaceable and mutually beneficial agreement for the transfer of WSPC from the PCUSA to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Unfortunately, we were met with a report from the AC containing several gross misrepresentations of our pastor, Session, and congregation. This report also included the AC’s recommendations that shepherd and flock be separated, and that the AC itself be given authorityto govern and direct the life of our congregation.
We found this report, and the manner in which it was presented, to be appalling. Together we authored a brief statement of dissent, respectfully thanked the AC for their time, and left the meeting.
Our congregation entered the dismissal process prayerfully, and with a commitment to honor our brothers and sisters in Shenandoah Presbytery by submitting to the requirements of the Presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy. We have answered every question and every request from the LRT/AC. From the beginning of this process, we’ve made all of our records freely available to them and presented our documents in an organized fashion. Likewise, we are willing to share copies of our records with anyone in the presbytery who requests them, and to answer any questions as they arise.
Though we are a small church in a far corner of the Presbytery, WSPC is a strong worshipping community dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are known for excellent music, faithful preaching, a growing midweek discipleship program, our wonderful TOTS preschool, leadership of the local fuel fund, a great Vacation Bible School, and gifts of mercy to many of our neighbors in need. We have about 70 members on the roll, and average about 50 in worship each Sunday.
The AC’s report portrays us an inept Session, with a hodgepodge of senseless members, all under the deceiving spell of an autocratic, pied-piper type of pastor. Our reality is quite the opposite. We are a congregation of accomplished leaders from many different backgrounds and vocations. Our Session is committed to Biblical faith and Presbyterian polity. We respect Rev. Reed and the Lord’s gift to him for preaching, and we are also keenly aware of his flaws. It is a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit – not the pastor or any particular person or group – that we are united in faith and in our convictions.
You will please note that, unlike the reports of other LRT’s and AC’s to presbytery, this AC report contains no numbers or percentages of members wanting to remain in the PCUSA. The simple reason for this is that no one – not a single member or attender – has expressed a desire to us or the AC to remain in the PCUSA. Nor is it surprising that no one came for individualmeetings with AC during the “listening” phase of our process. We heard multiple comments from members at the preceding congregational hearings that the way in which the LRT/AC chair spoke to our congregation was caustic and demeaning. Further, we are disappointed but not surprised by the gulf between our self-understanding and the AC’s description of us in this report. Throughout the dismissal process, the LRT/AC did very little in the way of actual listening, and instead talked for 95% of our time together.
We find it regrettable, but necessary as a matter of principle, to break institutional bonds with the PCUSA. Though the AC report falsely indicates a fixation on the issue of same-sex marriage, we’ve repeatedly expressed concerns about the denomination’s positions on this and other issues including abortion, sanctions against Israel, and property rights. However, our core disagreements are not about any one social issue, but rather about our fundamental understandings of Biblical authority and the necessity of well-articulated confessional standards for ministry. It is to these ends – a common understanding of Scripture and essential tenets of faith – that we are pursuing affiliation with the EPC. As per the gracious dismissal policy, we intend to honor “the intentions of Presbyterians now dead” by teaching the Westminster Confession of Faith and requiring our pastors and elders to subscribe to its statements. We intend “to safeguard church life for Presbyterians not yet born” by our obedience to Scripture and its faithful exposition in Westminster, and by making a payment to Shenandoah Presbytery upon successful completion of the dismissal process.
Please know that, while we find ourselves at odds with the positions of the PCUSA, we are appreciative of our sister churches in Shenandoah Presbytery and deeply grateful for our PCUSA colleagues in ministry.
We sincerely and respectfully ask that Shenandoah Presbytery grant our request for transfer to the EPC in agreement with the Presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy, and that our pastor, Session, and congregation be dismissed together at the same time. At no point has our pastor requested personal, individual dismissal to the EPC. Why would Presbytery dismiss our pastor without the EPC’s request, when this plainly contradicts Section II.D.2.c.ii.of the gracious dismissal policy? Why try to separate our congregation from the pastor? Does the Presbytery really believe it should violate the United States Constitution and attempt to prohibit Rev. Reed from working “within the geographic bounds of Shenandoah Presbytery in any capacity with any denomination, church or worshiping community for a period of five years” as seen on p.5 of the AC report? Why deny WSPC’s unanimous request for transfer to the EPC when we are asking to do so in accord with the Presbytery’s own policy? Why entertain any of the AC’s recommendations when they are, in the words of the AC chair herself, “unprecedented”?
We humbly ask that the Presbytery leadership and, indeed the Presbytery itself, intervene in the dismissal process to prevent any further contention or disruption. It remains our heartfelt prayer that WSPC could be transferred to the EPC in a truly gracious manner that would bring blessings to both the Presbytery and our congregation, and that the resolution of this matter would glorify Jesus Christ by demonstrating God’s love to everyone watching these proceedings in our communities.
The sociologist Max Weber said over 100 years ago the first and prime behavior of complex human institution is to perpetuate their own continued existence, at the expense of all other goals or motivations. Indeed, like three starving men on a raft, sooner or later one or two will look at the third as supper, regardless of their faith, confession, or socialization.
As the combined stress of economics, demographic trends, and institutional rot continue to press upon various organs of the PCUSA, it is not only expected, but anticipated behavior that one level of entity will look upon the other as a quick bite to keep body and soul together, for just a little longer.
In the PCUSA Darwinian world of per capita as a funding source, each level of the entity is in competition with the local church for each dollar in the offering plate and each implied brick of real estate. But hunger and need is a driving, primal force of nature and institutions. You can eat the person next to you, or your brother or neighbor, but soon the hunger returns, or in this case money, and you are looking for next target of opportunity, the weakest among you.
Interesting that ECO is not on their new list, even though they (as you note) dismissed a congregation to ECO two months ago. Perhaps the plan is to allow for dismissals only to denominations no congregation wants to move to.
They are also wrong on their simplistic “yes” as to whether the CRC ordains women. It is a decision made by individual congregations and classes (PBYS), not entirely unlike the EPC.
A reading of the presbytery document shows that ECO was previously vetted and approved. Since, not surprisingly, minutes from a February 13 presbytery meeting are not yet posted, anything regarding approval or disapproval of EPC or the nature of any February 13 presbytery discussion of EPC is hearsay. The writer of this page was pretty clearly not in attendance. Any suggestion on this page about motivation for action that may or may not have taken place is gross speculation.
Looks like a lot of dysfunction in this congregation/session, not surprised by this action as it seems to make sense, although the process being implemented for the protagonist pastor in charge here is unique in my experience with dismissals.
I think we will need to start quoting to the pcusa “let My people go”
Here is a suggestion, if you want to go the EPC: GO. Nothing is stopping any of you (except your property and money???). Leave it, be free and go, move on!
This is the new norm, I still can’t believe that there’s not some level of breach of agreement here when the presbyteries change the rules on a whim after all had already agreed on the ground rules going into the process.
What?! “Makes sense”?!
ECO was approved prior to the dismissal of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church to ECO.
It is worth pointing out that the question being asked of the presbytery is not whether a congregation should be released to the EPC, but whether the EPC denomination is REFORMED!! Shenandoah Presbytery just declared that the EPC is not REFORMED.
The irony in all this is that the PCUSA will not declare what it means to be reformed in the first place, but is the first to shout ‘fraud’ when some other reformed body attempts to do so.
Since when has the PCUSA been the arbiter of Reformed Classification?? Shame on the PCUSA placing itself in such a tenuous and ego-centric position…soon you will be as mainstream as the Quakers and your shouts of Reformed judgement will fall on deaf ears!
Anyone present for the discussion of this issue could have informed the layman that the primary objection to the EPC involved their very poor record on the issue of women’s ordination. This is important in a presbytery where a decent percentage of the pastor’s and probably over half or the ruling elder’s are women.
A very somber story indeed. At the end of the day I do not see happy outcomes for anybody, sadly.
To brighten the mood, one can access the PCUSA Comparative Stats for 2014, now posted on the denominational web site. A wealth of data. For those who are a fan of the mathematical symbol of subtraction and loss (-) it is feast for the eyes. I have highlighted certain presbyteries who have been repeat offenders when it comes to property confiscation, intimidation and other related activities. Membership loss in these reported Presbyteries 2013-14 as follows. All far exceeding per percentage losses for the denomination at large. Which is saying something. And this data is close to 2 years old now.
And the prize for presbytery membership loss 2013-14 is that paragon of orthodoxy San Francisco (-20%) and Seattle (-10%). Maybe if they served better coffee after church.
And this Summer the GA will all stand to give an ovations to themselves for another year of success and new horizons.
Thank you, Commentomaton, for your wonderfully kind and gracious comment. And thank you, Shenandoah Presbytery, for your generous and compassionate actions toward the people of the Warm Springs Church. I have always wondered what PCUSAers meant when they used the term “the love and justice of Jesus Christ.” Now I know. It could not be more clear. And it doesn’t have anything at all to do with love, or justice, or Jesus. Thank you for making such an open, obvious and public display of the real nature of your religiosity. It is most revealing. Thanks.
As there is no evidence of changing “the rules” in any documents from presbytery, perhaps you could enlighten everyone on your special knowledge of such a thing?
There is a truly enormous number of Reformed bodies. The presbytery is not in any way acting as an arbiter of what is a “Reformed body.” The dismissal policy, if you will read it, says that “A congregation may be dismissed only to another Reformed body approved by the presbytery..”
A reasonable dismissal policy would not be expected to permit dismissal to absolutely any Reformed body, but only those meeting criteria spelled out elsewhere in the document and subsequently approved by the presbytery.
Not dismissing to the EPC is blatantly discriminatory. Other dismissal documents refer to “dismissal to another reformed body.” I think EPC clearly meets that criteria. These are responsible people that have been discussing this matter for sometime and their wishes should be honored.
As far as the comment made concerning the EPC’s poor record on women’s ordination, one should check and see how many of the churches in the last 3 years have women elders. The fact is that many of the newer churches have women elders and their website makes explicit that churches are allowed to have women elders if they so desire. My church left for ECO several years ago, but it is slanderous to suggest that the EPC REFORMED denomination is not friendly to women elders. This presbytery appears to have adopted Trump’s method of saying whatever they want to believe, whether it has any connection to actual fact. (apologies to Trump supporters, but the number of times he has claimed facts that are not close to accurate is not in question.)
When the opening statement on the denominational website concerning women states “The Evangelical Presbyterian Church does not believe that the ordination of women is essential to the faith” I hardly consider it “slanderous” for a presbytery to question that denomination’s support and inclusion of the people who fill over half the seats in their pews.
There may be exceptions but the overall stance is hardly supportive of women.
I hear you, Arbuthnaught, but you’ve got to understand that Shennandoah Presbytery is an entity that likes to pretend that it is Christian, but somewhere along the way forgot the actual meaning of that word. It’s the new and improved PCUSA! And if you make them mad, sucker, they’ll squash you like a bug and eat you for dinner. It’s the PCUSA’s new and improved way of showing the world what it means to be like Jesus. Glory!
Yep, what Donnie Bob says. What a creepy denomination. I was almost a part of it once and that was in the better days. I guess justice triumphs over mercy in the PCUSA! How sad and truly heartbreaking to Jesus. Can you not hear your own words? Let him/her who has ears to hear, hear…. I am so amazed at the present behavior of a denomination that once, long ago, believed in the Bible, but I guess I shouldn’t be. It is all grievous but will be sorted out at the Throne.
And what is clear is that the Presbytery was lying about the issue. Figures!
Peter, I think you sum it up nicely.
Betty, with respect, you are terribly misinformed. My church left PCUSA three years ago. I was its clerk of session. We were and are egalitarian. We had women ordained ruling elders on session when we left. They were received into our EPC presbytery with open arms. We continue to elect and ordain/install women ruling elders and send them to presbytery as commissioners.
It’s only predictable. As more and more true Christian congregations leave the PCUSA, the PCUSA will only become more and more rigidly un-Christian. If you spill toxic water on a hot sidewalk, the H2O will evaporate (but still be H2O), but the harsh, toxic contaminants will remain behind.
Frankly, the ordination of women to the offices of Elder, Deacon, and Minister of Word and Sacrament is not essential to the Christian faith, for the Christian faith had existed for nearly two millennia before it caught on in some Protestant denominations.
The majority position of the Church of Jesus Christ historically—and even today—is that the ordination of women is Biblically impermissible. After all, Paul, vested with apostolic authority and inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (I Tim. 2.12) And it is no accident or coincidence that this statement precedes the Biblical qualifications for the offices of Elder and Deacon in I Timothy 3: it is clear from the context of its placement that Paul is forbidding women from holding these offices in the Church of Jesus Christ.
To be sure, there are a half dozen passages in the Scriptures in which women do, in fact, teach or exercise authority over men (Judg. 4.4-5.31, II Kg. 22.14-20, Lk. 2.36-38, Acts 18.26, 21.8-9, Rom. 16.1-2). Denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hold that the clear commands of the Apostle Paul in I Timothy 2.8-15 and also in I Corinthians 11.8-10, 14.33-35 are normative, whereas these others are divinely sanctioned exceptions. Conversely, denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians hold that the passages in which women teach or exercise authority over men set the standard, and Paul’s statements no longer apply today. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has determined to delegate the decision as to whether to ordain women to the offices of (Ruling) Elder and Deacon to the individual congregations and the decision as to whether or not to ordain women to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament (or Teaching Elder) to the individual presbyteries; thus, the EPC ordains both women and also men who do not believe that women should be ordained, without either expressly mandating or expressly prohibiting the practice, as do other denominations.
Less important to me than whether women are ordained is whether the authority of the Scriptures is upheld in the decision. The decision to ordain women because the “wider witness overrode Paul’s handful of scattered comments mostly referring to particular women in one or two particular churches of his time,” or because “Paul was wrong,” or simply because “we know better two thousand years later,” does violence to the authority of Scripture, because it sets Scripture in opposition to Scripture, or worse, it sets human authority (especially our authority) over the authority of the Word of God. Any decision to ordain women must show respect to Paul’s apostolic authority, bestowed upon him by God to speak and write His Word (I Thess. 2.13; cf. Num. 12.6-8) that would stand for all time, including the three passages mentioned above. (For my humble attempt to do so, please visit my blog, which can be accessed by clicking on my name, and following the link to my post, On the Ordination of Women.)
It must have taken these Presbytery leaders some deep thinking to come up with this deceitful plan. It reminded me of this Scripture:
Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds!
At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses and seize them.
So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord: Behold against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks;
Nor shall you walk haughtily, For this is an evil time…………
5 Therefore you will have no one to determine boundaries by lot (or no one casting a surveyors line ) in the assembly of the Lord”
Yes – makes sense, read the AC statements and the pastor/session letter (certainly pre-written before the meeting!) – truth probably lies in the middle somewhere. That being said, the middle point is dysfunctional session/pastor relationship that needs to be fixed, from my perspective. A trend I see is congregations seeking dismissal all have overbearing pastor or a small group on session who seek to assert their will over the others, it is an issue.
Yes – the EPC’s stance on Women in Leadership has “evolved” to accommodate the views of congregations who want to get away from the PCUSA recent changes on sexuality. It seems strange to me that folks in the EPC are OK with being “yoked” to other congregations who have different beliefs on the role of women in church leadership – but not to congregations who have different views related to human sexuality – yet? Time will tell…
I attended this meeting where the EPC was rejected as a receiving body. The committee who studied these churches had no difficulty in recommending EPC as a receiving body. Primarily one teaching elder spoke against it, with her primary argument relating to the lack of any female ministers in any of their congregations in the state of Virginia despite their stated rules saying this was allowed. The defining issue did not seem to having anything to do with “reformed faith”, the love of Jesus or basic theology, but rather male/female equity.
After reading your post on our upcoming meeting on Tuesday, 2/23, I almost dread going to the meeting. The last meeting concerning a withdrawal from PCUSA was bad enough. This sounds as if it will be much more vindictive than forgiving and accepting. One can only pray that the Spirit will attend.
@ Frankly – Presbyterians do not believe “in the Bible” nor do we worship the Bible – we believe in God as revealed in the scriptures and most perfectly in Jesus Christ.
@ Donnie Bob – I hope you realize your viewpoint is just as valid from the other direction. What justice and love is there in seeking to disaffiliate from the place the Spirit has put you? Why not stay and participate where you are?
Sorry, I can’t help but ask, is the PCUSA still “reformed” by any traditional definition of that word? Many churches have been dismissed to PCA over the years and now all of a sudden there is a “theological problem?”
Perhaps you might disagree with the term changing the rules. How about abuse of discretion instead? How about a tortured construction to exclude PCA? How about follow the set out procedure and then presbytery plays “gottcha” at the last step?
Meant to say EPC
Commentomation – So the 80-90% that want to go should leave the property to the 15% that want to stay? How is that just or fair? Would the small remnant that is left even be capable of doing basic maintenance on the building? That is a pattern that has happened over and over. Presbytery seizes a church, a supermajority leaves, the remaining congregation is too small to be viable, the church is dissolved and then no one ever associated with that church gets use of the property. Church seizure can also boomerang on presbytery if they get stuck with a non-desirable property or have to assume the liabilities of a dissolved congregation.
Valley Girl- I think if you will perhaps dig deeper you will find that the departing churches are voting by super majorities of 85 percent or more to leave. These are recorded votes on paper ballots. Since departure is so difficult, sessions do not even embark on it unless they are likely to have a super majority at the end of the process that votes to leave. In my experience it is a small minority that seeks to disrupt the majority that wants to leave.
It is a creepy denomination, Frankly Frank, and getting creepier with each passing year. All that anyone needs to do to realize just how creepy the PCUSA has become is read the comments that are posted on this website by those who are trying to defend it. These comments are often far more damning to the PCUSA than anything that others say.
One way or another Christians are bailing out of the PCUSA in massive numbers. Some of them have been able to leave with their congregations, while others have been forced to leave with nothing but the shirts on their backs. But in all cases, these folk have recognized the spiritual poison that is in the PCUSA and are fleeing from it.
We are living in interesting times. No doubt about that.
Sorry, Intelligent Design, but you’re blowing smoke. The so-called “local option” stance of the EPC on the subject of women in ordained leadership has been the same since the denomination was formed back in the 1980s. The PCUSA may change its core beliefs every few years to accommodate the surrounding culture, but the EPC does not do this. Neither the PCUSA nor the PCA agree with the EPC’s position on women serving as elders, which probably means that the EPC has gotten it just about right.
Valley Girl wrote, “A trend I see is congregations seeking dismissal all have overbearing pastor or a small group on session who seek to assert their will over the others, it is an issue.”
That has not been my experience at all.
I have been a member of two congregations that were affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) that are now affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Specifically, I was a member of Eastminster in Wichita, Kansas, from 1991 until a job change took me to Kansas City in 1996, and then at Colonial in KC from 1996 until a job change brought me to Denton, Texas, in 2014. (Since moving to Texas, my wife, children, and I have been worshiping at Denton Presbyterian Church, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.) For reference, both Eastminster and Colonial have about 2000 members each.
Following a Session retreat in January 2010, during which the Session discerned that the Holy Spirit was calling the church to get out of the PC(USA) and to get out of debt (the church owed several million dollars on a piece of land in Johnson County, Kansas, that it had purchased in the 1990s to establish a second campus), Colonial entered a season of discernment, inviting Heartland Presbytery to participate. Colonial hosted four town hall meetings, with Heartland’s Administrative Review Committee in attendance, in which all of Colonial’s members were encouraged to participate. In each of these meetings, an elder on the Session outlined reasons why the Session believed that the Holy Spirit was calling Colonial to separate from the PC(USA) and align with a more Biblically sound Presbyterian denomination, then a representative of the ARC outlined reasons why Colonial should stay, and then the meeting was opened to the congregation to ask questions or make statements. The questions and statements from the congregation had not been coached by the pastors or the elders, and there was a palpable tension in many of the meetings, as a few of the members expressed deeply felt frustration toward the anti-Biblical stands taken by Heartland and other PC(USA) governing bodies.
In late May, after the town hall meetings were concluded, the congregation was polled, and a little more than ninety percent of those who responded said that they wanted to be dismissed to another Reformed denomination. Consequently, the session asked Heartland to appoint an Administrative Commission to facilitate Colonial’s dismissal to another Reformed denomination. However, Heartland stalled, sent a threatening letter to the session, and put up other roadblocks to keep Colonial from leaving. Consequently, the session called a congregational meeting on August 22, 2010 (with more than two weeks’ notice), to determine if Colonial should disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and affiliate instead with the EPC. Less than a week before the scheduled meeting, Heartland summoned Colonial’s lead pastor and clerk of session to grill them and to threaten to dissolve Colonial’s session and appoint the Administrative Commission to function as Colonial’s session. Subsequently, Colonial filed for quiet title in both Kansas and Missouri, and the congregation voted to disaffiliate by 97% (927-27). None of the pastors were “overbearing”, nor was there “a small group on session (seeking) to assert their will over the others”.
Likewise at Eastminster, the congregation went through a season of discernment, during which the whole congregation was encouraged to participate. On October 23, 2011, Eastminster voted 97% (650-17) to seek dismissal from the Presbytery of Southern Kansas to the EPC, which subsequently dismissed Eastminster with its property. Again, there was no “small group on session (seeking) to assert their will over the others”, and at the time there was no installed senior pastor—“overbearing” or otherwise.
For reference, I became a Presbyterian in 1991, having grown up in theologically moderate-to-liberal United Methodism, and shortly after having graduated from college. I had been introduced to the Lord when I was seven years old by my Baptist grandmother, who taught me a deep love of and respect for the Scriptures, the Word of God. The way in which the Scriptures were handled at Eastminster, versus the way in which they were handled at the theologically liberal UMC congregation I had been attending, resonated with what I had been taught; that is, in keeping with the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Scripture at both Eastminster and Colonial (and also at Denton Pres) is interpreted by Scripture.
Conversely, the way in which the Scriptures are handled at most PC(USA) congregations more closely resembles the way in which they were handled at the UMC congregation I left, which is to say, the Scriptures are “interpreted” through the lens of this fallen, sin-sick world, and where the Scriptures differ from the world’s ways, the Scriptures are disbelieved. This fundamental difference in “interpretation” leads to profound differences in priorities and beliefs as to where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. This, in turn, causes great tension between Evangelicals and Theological Liberals, and between Evangelical congregations and Theologically Liberal congregations. And this tension is felt in the pews, not just in sessions and presbyteries. From what I’ve seen, the average Presbyterian in the pews in Evangelical congregations is not a passive individual, easily led by an “overbearing” pastor or a manipulative clique on session. Most lay Presbyterians in Evangelical congregations are highly educated professionals, and those who come to the belief that it is time that their congregation separate from the PC(USA) do so by a careful consideration of the facts, a careful reading of Scripture, and a lot of prayer.
@ JDB, Esq. — “true Christian” – are you the judge of this? Your comment reveals your inner thought process – when any of us start deciding who is and is not true Christian, among those who openly profess Christ as savior and Lord, we are all in trouble.
Sorry DB – the EPC stance has evolved, used to be if you wanted women in leadership (elder/pastor) you had to be yoked to a Presbytery that would allow it – if yours did not, even though that Presbytery was not your geographic area. Here is a FACT, women are disproportionally represented in church leadership in the EPC – why?
That is an excellent analogy, JDB, one that is perfectly descriptive of what happens.
Last year, a PCUSA presbytery well known to me closed two of its small struggling churches. Both of these churches had split some time back with a majority of their members organizing themselves as non-PCUSA congregations. The presbytery had been financially propping up the “loyal” PCUSA factions year after year after year, but the atmosphere in those groups was so toxic and unattractive that neither of them could attract enough new members to offset their losses, so that each of them became smaller and smaller and smaller. Finally the presbytery decided that there was no point in throwing good money after bad, and pulled the plug on both of them.
As you say, once the H2O has gone out of a church there’s nothing of any positive spiritual value left behind. Sad but true.
Thank you for your response, ID.
Let me respond to each of the two points that you raise.
The EPC has been consistent from the beginning that each presbytery determines for itself whether or not to ordain or receive women ministers. This is still true today. A local church that wants to call a female minister but is geographically located in a presbytery that does not ordain women to the pastoral office can move its membership to a presbytery where this is allowed. The point to note here is that the EPC accommodates such churches, and makes a way for them to be able to call the person to whom they believe the Lord has led them. As far as I can see, the only thing that has “evolved” in recent years is that the influx of a large number of former PCUSA churches into the EPC has shifted the balance from a majority of presbyteries that do not ordain women to a overwhelming majority of presbyteries that DO ordain women. The basic “local option” approach to this question, however, is the same today as it was at the beginning.
When you use the term “disproportionate” you need to clarify disproportionate TO WHAT? I suspect that you mean disproportionate to the church’s overall membership, so that a presbytery where women constitute 60% of the members should have a governing body where 60% of the minister members are also women. That is proportionate, and by this standard the EPC is clearly disproportionate.
But the same can also be said for many if not most PCUSA presbyteries. My former PCUSA presbytery is a small one, and currently has only one woman serving as a pastor, and only a few women serving as associate pastors, ministers at large, etc. Its presbytery meetings can justly be described as overwhelmingly and disproportionally male. I think that PCUSAers should be careful about throwing stones at other denominations when they themselves are doing such a poor job of modeling what they claim to care about.
But more importantly than this, the EPC just doesn’t obsess over proportionality the way the PCUSA does. When a local church is seeking a minister, it is seeking to find the particular individual it believes God is calling to that particular pastoral position — not a female or male, or a left-handed or right-handed, or a short or tall person — but a particular individual. The result of this is that most pastoral calls are extended to men, both in the EPC and in the PCUSA. And as a result, teaching elders in almost all presbyteries are disproportionately male. This is the simple fact of the matter.
‘nuf said. I would be curious to know how proportionate Shennandoah Presbytery is when it comes of its own male and female teaching elders. I have a sneaking suspicion that its criticism of the EPC might well constitute the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
So you’re saying that any sort of reporting without having someone physically there, is hearsay?
OK .. that eliminates most of the reporting in the country, as most reports are by third-party persons who were there, passing on information to the media who then report that information.
FWIW .. here’s the original position paper on Women’s Ordination in the EPC:
Ordination of Women
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church does not believe that the issue of the ordination of women is an essential of the faith. The historic Reformed position on the scriptural doctrine of government by elders is believed to be that form needed for the perfecting of the order of the visible church, but has never been considered essential to its existence.
The Westminster Confession of Faith makes it clear that the church catholic is sometimes more, sometimes less, visible according to the purity of the church at a particular time.
Also, the purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.
Nonetheless, in spite of such failures to be all God wants His church to be, the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that, “…there shall always be a church on earth to worship God according to His will.” Thus, while some churches may ordain women and some may decline to do so, neither position is essential to the existence of the church. since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the
Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spirit-guided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as elders and deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as ministers.
It is in this context that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church states in its Book of Government, Chapter 6, titled “Rights Reserved to a Local Church” that “The local church has the right to elect its own officers” (6-2). This right is guaranteed in perpetuity.
Finally, the motto of our church summarizes our stance: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Adopted by the 4th General Assembly
Note .. this was adopted 4 years after the founding of the EPC.
so Loren, a sample size of two does not make a strong case here. Spend some time reading up on in-group/out group theory and open your mind to the possibility that the vast majority of members in a congregation will always choose to fall in with the local established in-group. That is why “voting” by congregations should really not be a part of a dismissal process, the in-group bias for “members” is just too strong. There are just too many undercurrents involved when a pastor and strong leaders start pulling (even if its just subconsciously) towards the side of dismissal.
Does not your critique apply equally well to presbyteries voting on whether to release congregations or not? Where do we trust the movement of the Holy Spirit in this process? Can individual believers not be trusted to weigh arguments and discern God’s will on such important matters, or do you relegate them to the status of religious lemmings?
How did the meeting go?
–Presbyteries ultimately have the responsibility to begin and dismiss congregations – right? When elders vote at the Presbytery level they are going to be in a more neutral position to see the overall dynamic, then a in-group leader/member will. At the core, the issue here is that leaders should not just expect that if they discern a movement to leave that their discernment will trump the discernment of the Presbytery to maintain a mission presence and PCUSA congregation in that geographic area. If the Presbytery decides there is a viable congregation or a re-development, they can and should maintain the congregation and not dismiss. It floors me that many of those who seek to take a congregation and property with them complain so loudly that the PCUSA is not doing enough to plant churches and grow. If they feel the movement to separate, go plant a new church and leave in a way that builds up both congregations instead of tearing down everything. Also, every single case is different and there are no blanket solutions here, but folks on this website seem to believe that there should be some magic formula that if you follow all the steps you are dismissed – this will never work for the reasons I have already brought up.
However, many other presbyteries have simply used the guidelines that membership in WCRC/WARC is sufficient to prove that a denomination is Reformed. Since both EPC and ECO are full members of that body, that should be sufficient bona fides.
However, what Shenandoah is doing is putting up a wall that will keep most churches from leaving if they use the hardly “Gracious” dismissal process.
And as someone else said in these comments, there aren’t many (if any) churches seeking to leave the PC(USA) for the CRC, and no one leaving over theological reasons would even think of the UCC.
You would divest congregations the right to vote on their future within or without a particular denomination based on someone’s theory of group dynamics? That strikes me as more than a little elitist and condescending. Would you also deprive the American people the right to vote for president and US senator and instead return those votes to each state’s legislature on the basis that the legislatures are “in a more neutral position to see the overall dynamic” of the citizens in their state?
Your complaint is that “overbearing” pastors and “in-groups” within sessions exercise hegemonic influence over their congregations. Has it not occurred to you that presbyteries might do the same thing? You do realize, don’t you, that the congregation seeking the Lord’s discernment usually has lost trust in the presbytery that has oversight of it? And often for good reason: From the trends that I’ve seen, presbyteries are very seldom “neutral” toward congregations seeking to separate from them. The recent action of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery toward Central Presbyterian Church in Athens to preemptively dissolve the Session (which was reversed by the Synod of South Atlantic) might be an extreme example, but threats to do by other presbyteries so are not uncommon, and many separation cases end up in the secular courts. And do not forget the exorbitant exit fees bordering on extortion often charged by presbyteries in order to uphold the PC(USA)’s immoral trust clause, by which a congregation that has bought and paid for its property must do so again to a governing body that typically has not contributed so much as one red cent toward the purchase or maintenance of the congregation’s property; as of this writing, there are fifteen that are (or were) pay exit fees in excess of one million dollars.
For these reasons (among others), I believe that the congregational vote ought most certainly to be a crucial part of the dismissal process.
Loren, I don’t doubt that is what you believe. Your opinion and your welcome to it.
Arbuthnaught – No, the 80 to 90% should kick the 15% to the curb and the Presbytery with them, that is certainly a fair and just outcome. All for one and one for all…
I think you missunderstand what it means to be Presbyterian.
Members choose their pastors and elect their elders. This is done by the Holy Spirit working in individuals and then in the corporate body where the majority vote reflects the will of God. These elders become Presbyters at Presbytery and their voting should reflect the will of God again by majority vote. The members/elders ARE the Presbytery. When you diminish the members to non-discerning people you diminish the work of God in Christians….in churches! The Presbytery should respect the decisions of the session because the Presbytery serves at the discretion of its members (presbyters) and with a respect to the working of the Holy Spirit. It is a work from the bottom up not top down. The power of the Presbytery to dismiss should give heed to the will of God born out in the membership and session. The power to dismiss is not a power given to them so they can wield punitive and abusive measures, hold up the process, or coheres churches to act against the will of God discerned by the session. Rather, they should dismiss them to where God has called them to serve in what ever reformed body that may be.
Why are churches choosing to leave?
When the choices made by the higher governing bodies do not match the discerned will of God,or the Word of God, the members vote to leave.
It is that simple! Churches are groups of people who have chosen to become children of God through Jesus Christ and they have unity because of the Holy Spirit and God’s word not just because they are of the PCUSA. They are following Jesus Christ, not just the “in” crowd or pastor. The hierarchical nature of the denomination in 2016 with higher bodies exerting power over lower bodies is not the “Presbyterian” way it has always been, at least from my understanding.
I reject the notion that somehow congregations are lead out of the PCUSA by Svengali like pastors that mesmerize their congregants into leaving. I have first hand knowledge with 4 large churches that have left the PCUSA. If anything those Churches lost members who could not stand the PCUSA one day more who wanted the process to move even faster. If anything it is the disgruntled minority that wants to stay that causes a fuss all out of proportion to their actual numbers.
There are almost no good reasons for a presbytery to deny a congregation’s request to leave. Congregations are going through a discernment process of a year or more. These are not overnight decisions. The congregations are being dismissed to the PCA, EPC and ECO all responsible denominations. They are not being dismissed to the Moonies. Congregations are also leaving by supermajorities. These are not 49 to 51 percent votes. These are 80 to 90 percent super majorities to leave.
This is not sociology 101. I think you are misapplying those concepts here. Lots of people have very strong feelings about the decadence of the PCUSA and can not wait to get out. Once out, many speak about an incredible sense of relief. I do not believe that you are giving ordinary parishioners credit enough for having their own opinions. If you want to apply sociology concepts a better concept would be group think at the presbytery level.
F-3.0206 Review and Control — A higher council shall have the right of review and control over a lower one and shall have power to determine matters of controversy upon reference, complaint, or appeal.
F-3.0208 Shared Power, Exercised Jointly Ecclesiastical jurisdiction is a shared power, to be exercised jointly by presbyters gathered in councils.
You come into the conversation with the primary assumption that everyone thinks like you: that the PCUSA is apostate, this is not the reality, they are a variety of impressions.
The Westminister Confession
6.175.” All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.”
Their decrees should be consonant with the Word of God and in agreement with the Word. See 6.174
When the higher councils dictate practice and issues of faith that are not
according to God’s Word, then there is a problem at the local level.
The reformation was about believers breaking away from the Pope and his higher councils who had paverted the Word of God for monetary and authoritative gain. You quote the N FOG.
There is a reformation going on now with the breaking away of many from the dictates of higher councils in the PCUSA ….because they ignore God’s will and revelation in His Word. If this movement is of God, then it will
happen and no hand wringing of the PCUSA leadership will stop it.