Last week, a new Presbyterian denomination was born. It will be called, at least initially, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. Quite a mouthful I would say. The name also feels about as clumsy as what they seem to be trying to accomplish in their formation.
While I will concede at the outset that the baby is still young, and how it grows over the years to come remains to be seen. I am hoping that as it matures, it will distance itself from its “mother” to a greater degree than it has at its birth.
The idea behind the ECOoP is to form a new denomination, largely in reaction to the decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ordain unrepentant, practicing homosexuals as teaching and ruling elders and deacons. That was a move that was unacceptable to many members of the PC(USA), even as they have generally allowed their church to take socially and theologically liberal positions on other topics.
What speaks the loudest to me about this need for an altogether new Presbyterian denomination is that for the last few years, the PC(USA)’s more conservative congregations have been finding the exits and joining other pre-existing Presbyterian denominations. And I am not talking about members here, I am talking about whole churches, sometimes walking away from their property, sometimes taking it with them at great cost. Many of these did so even before the PC(USA)’s decision to ordain homosexuals. The particular denomination that has received most of these congregations is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
The possibility of joining the EPC was still available to many, perhaps most of those PC(USA) congregations who are now interested in escaping the liberalism of their current denomination. So, why do they not pursue that avenue, as so many others have?
The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that the PC(USA) congregations who are forming the new ECOoP are caught between their current church, that is too liberal for their liking, and another Presbyterian denomination that is not liberal enough. Consequently, they find themselves needing to give birth to a new church that is nearly as biblically confused as the one they are trying to escape. And the specific aspect of their need for a new hybrid church is the fact that while they may reject the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals on the basis of its incompatibility with scripture, they have yet to embrace the perspicuity of scripture with respect to its teaching that opposes the ordination of women to the office of teaching elder. The result is a couple of denominations, one old and one new, with philosophical and theological positions that are only distinguished by one church’s willingness to ordain women and the other’s willingness to ordain women, and unrepentant homosexuals. While the difference between the two may seem significant in a contemporary cultural context, there really is very little difference with respect to the compatibility of either ordination standard, with scripture.
Several years ago, Albert Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY wrote:
The feminization of the ministry is one of the most significant trends of this generation. Acceptance of women in the pastoral role reverses centuries of Christian conviction and practice. It also leads to a redefinition of the church and its ministry. Once women begin to fill and represent roles of pastoral leadership men withdraw. This is true, not only in the pulpit, but in the pews. The evacuation of male worshippers from liberal churches is a noticeable phenomenon.
Furthermore, the issues of women’s ordination and the normalization of homosexuality are closely linked. It is no accident that those churches that most eagerly embraced the ordination of women now either embrace the ordination of homosexuals or are seriously considering such a move.
The reason for this is quite simple. The interpretive games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s proscription of women in congregational preaching and teaching roles are precisely the games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexuality. (emphasis, mine)
I hope that I am misreading the putt here. But the very fact that the ECOoP claims as one of its distinctives that it is an “Egalitarian Ministry (in which the spiritual gift of both genders and all racial and ethnic groups are “unleashed”)“, and the fact that it has taken the confessions of the PC(USA) as its own basis for its theology rather than the more orthodox Presbyterian, Westminster Standards, would suggest to me that the ECOoP is merely a “light” version of the PC(USA).