Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (aka: PC(USA) “light”)

January 23, 2012

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).


What a slippery slope the EPC has started down.

August 23, 2010

In the latest edition of The Layman, Carmen Fowler, who is an ordained female teaching elder in the PCUSA, wrote an article about the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church approving language for its Book of Government that will allow women to be ordained as teaching elders in that denomination, a practice that apparently heretofore has not been allowed.  The proposed amendment still must be ratified by the presbyteries.  The language of the amendment is as follows:

The officers of the Church as set forth in Scripture are: Teaching elders (designated by many titles in Scripture, including ministers and pastors), ruling elders and deacons. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church believes that the issue of the ordination of women is not an essential of the faith. 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 teaching elders.  (emphasis, mine)

While I will concede the fact that “people of good faith who equally love the Lord” differ on this matter, I am not convinced that these same differing groups “equally love God’s word” and its authority, especially when it differs from their personal points of view.  Is there really any doubt, apart from all sorts of parsing of the plain language of scripture that women are prohibited from assuming the role of teaching elder, thus having authority over a man?  While I will acknowledge that Paul’s teaching on this matter clearly had historic and cultural considerations, to simply dismiss those teachings as prescriptive only for the first century and not so for a timeless audience is dangerous stuff.  The EPC will pursue this sort of policy to its own peril.  All they need to do is look at what has happened in terms of the apostasy of the PCUSA to see what this sort of careless treatment of scripture produces.

But perhaps the even more slippery slope that the EPC will experience is the same one the PCUSA is currently descending.  Once the EPC sets as it norm the cultural interpretation of scripture, selecting the authoritative texts for its own purposes and dismissing those that seem out of phase in our contemporary setting, a future amendment to their Book of Government will look something like this:

The officers of the Church as set forth in Scripture are: Teaching elders (designated by many titles in Scripture, including ministers and pastors), ruling elders and deacons. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church believes that the issue of the ordination of unrepentant, practicing homosexuals is not an essential of the faith. 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 unrepentant, practicing homosexuals as elders and deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of unrepentant, practicing homosexuals as teaching elders. (emphasis, mine)

A great question!

August 21, 2010

“Anybody listening?”  That is the question posed by Parker Williamson, the former executive director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.  He poses the question in his article about the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and its recent General Assembly discussions about taking steps to “censure” Caterpillar, Inc., the heavy equipment manufacturer, for sales of its equipment to Israel.  You can read the entire piece HERE.  It makes some of the most excellent points I have seen in a long time with respect to the PCUSA’s loss of real purpose, which is exactly where it finds itself right now, but doesn’t know or understand it. 

Williamson’s points would apply to MOST if not ALL of the old mainline Christian denominations.  Substitute any denominational name from among those old mainline churches, and the truths spoken in this article will be relevant.  And sadly, I would submit that even some of the more evangelical splinters from the old mainline churches are prone to veering off into “words” instead of “the Word” whenever they begin dabbling in the areas of social justice, kooky and unsupportable enviro-consciousness, LGBTQ sensitivities, and a host of other culturally popular topics.

Read the aricle!

Done, and DONE!

February 10, 2010

The headline of The Layman article reads:  “More than half of PCUSA Presbyterians reject Jesus as sole savior”.  The article that follows the headline does not provide any relief from the shock one might receive upon first reading that.  You can read the entire article HERE.

This stately old Mainline denomination was dying a slow death anyway with its failure to exercise the kind of rigor or discipline that would be required to end once and for all its interminable dancing with the matter of ordination of unrepentant and practicing homosexuals.  Add to that, the long-standing practice of ordaining and installing women to the position of pastor/head of staff, which betrays the clear teaching of the New Testament, and it was no wonder that this is an ailing connection.

But the findings of the research that are the subject of the linked article are an all together different matter.  The centrality of the role of Jesus in orthodox Christian soteriology is so fundamental that the kind of numbers that deny this truth, particularly among clergy and elders, spells nothing short of apostasy. 

The PCUSA is a whitewashed tomb.  Those who still claim a true faith in the scriptures and belief the essential doctrines of Christianity (such as the exclusivity of Christ) would do well to removed themselves from this wretched institution.  There are several denominations that offer historic, reformed theology in a presbyterian form of government, such as the EPC and PCA.  Run to one of those….FAST!

Unexpected good news!

April 27, 2009

From the Associated Press:

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – Efforts to allow homosexual men and women to serve as clergy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have been defeated again. 

Last summer, the 2.3 million-member denomination’s General Assembly voted to drop a constitutional requirement that would-be ministers, deacons, and elders live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

Any such change requires approval by a majority of the nation’s 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies. Those votes have been trickling in for months, and on Saturday enough “no” votes had been recorded to clinch the measure’s defeat.

Previous efforts to delete the “fidelity and chastity” provision failed in 1998 and 2002. The denomination’s Book of Order prohibits homosexuals from leadership posts.

So, I guess the matter is settled.  Right? 

Uhhh, NO.  The GLBTQ lobby will not give up on this, and they will find support to keep the issue of the ordination of those who are unrepentant in their sexual immorality alive with the help of the denomination’s current moderator of the General Assembly.  And as this article shows, while this particular measure was defeated, the GLBTQ crowd is gaining strength. 

This will be a short lived celebration as the matter is far from settled.  This denomination is a whitewashed tomb.  (Matthew 23: 27, 28)  The faithful should come out from them.  There really are are great presbyterian alternatives in the EPC, the PCA.

This sounds about right.

February 18, 2009

A recent Ellison Research study found that 22% of respondent prefer one brand of toothpaste and use it only.  Similarly, 19% prefer one brand of toilet paper, and use over all other brands.  16% of respondents said they prefer one religious denomination over all others, and “use” it exclusively.  Conclusion…surveyed people have a stronger preference for what they use to clean their mouths and their bottoms, than for the institutions that serve to teach about the salvation of their souls.

But this sounds about right to me.  I have contended for some time, including in couple of articles at this site, that the last 25 or so years have brought with them the diminishing of religious denominations and the flourishing of faithful individual congregations.  Some of these congregations, might “network” with other like-minded groups of believers, but those networks sometimes include congregations that bear a different “brand” on the sign outside their places of worship.  Religious liberalism has brought with it the presumably unintended consequence of the destruction of the overarching institutions which their leaders represent and the elevation of the local body of believers, even among so-called connectional denominations.  I am convinced from personal experience and observation that the parent churches among the Presbyterians (USA), the United Methodists, the Episcopal Church (USA) among others, are nearly rotten to the core. 

Yet, there remain faithful individual congregations among them that still are unwavering in their belief in such essential “first order” theological matters as the authority and accuracy of scripture (particularly as it relates to the subject of qualifications for the office of elder in a church, and the clear teaching of the Bible on such matters as sexual immorality, both homosexual and heterosexual),  the sufficiency and exclusivity of Christ’s atonement for sin, the Trinity, and the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. 

It is the apparent uncertainty, or dismissal of these core doctrines that have resulted in the irrelevancy of denominations, while adherence to them has caused individual collections of faithful believers at the local congregational level to thrive.

It seems to beg the question…”Do the facts not speak for themselves and are the metrics of membership loss and indeed even entire congregational loss not obvious to everyone, particularly the people who sit in the seats of authority among these old and dying institutions of faith?”  It seems so plainly obvious, that it speaks not so much to ignorance, but perhaps more to a sordid sort of defiance.

Sperately, but not unrelated, check out this link and be sure to look at both the “Breakdown of Religious Belief” and the “Topography of Faith”.  The map is almost too cool.  Roll your mouse over the map of the US and look at the stats to the right.

A sad update, but not an unexpected one.

June 30, 2008

My last post (which you can read below) was written on June 26.  In that article, I discussed the failure of several Christian denominations to deal Biblically with the issue of sexual immorality within its membership and clergy.  One day later, on June 27, the Presbyterian Church (USA) finally sealed its fate as an apostate church.  While they have been on the brink of this for many years, their General Assembly, meeting in California, voted to abolish what had been known as the “fidelity and chastity” language regarding standards of conduct for those seeking ordination as teaching elders, as related to matters of human sexuality. 

The church’s former standards included language that made it absolutely clear that all ministers must live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”  This language has been a festering sore within the liberal wing of the PCUSA, who, operating under the benevolent sounding banner of “justice” have sought to undo historic Christian and Biblical understandings of sexual immorality.  Homosexuality has always been their cause celebre, but I think a case could be made that under the liberals’ idea of “justice”, no boundaries can be drawn with respect to human sexuality.  Essentially, nothing can or should be considered immoral.  After all, if those things that are specifically labeled as immoral in scripture cannot be regarded as such, are there any limits that can be placed on human sexual behavior?  I am guessing that the liberals would argue “NO”.

The PCUSA has been dissolving gradually over the last several years.  The beneficiary of this has been the Evangelical Presbyterian Church which has not only gained individual members, but indeed entire congregations have defected from the impending, now present apostasy of the PCUSA, to join a denomination that still regards scripture as authoritative and reliable.  I suspect that this trend of defection will accelerate in the weeks and months ahead.

This development is a sad one.  My ordination as an elder in this church would have reached the 15 year milestone this December and a part of me still loves what that church once stood for.  However, what occurred last week was not completely unexpected.  Is spite of the lifetime duration of my ordination, I have not been a member of, or worshiped in a PCUSA church in probably 10 years.  As much as we would like to have seen a different outcome, the apostle Paul’s admonition has indeed come true.  What started out as a little leaven, has now leavened the whole lump. 

The irony of the location of the meeting of the General Assembly and the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court knocking down prohibitions against homosexual marriage is not lost on me.  I cannot think of a more fitting location for this former great church to effectively end its raison d’etre.