28 April 2008


In June 2006, the General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted to approve the controversial Report of the Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church. It also “received” a report on the Trinity. Taken together, these reports revealed a disconnect between many members in the pews and the national leadership of the denomination.

Many evangelical, orthodox members of the PC(USA) were appalled by the continuing shift away from orthodoxy. The family of renewal organizations within the PC(USA) voiced strong concern. One, the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) took action, appointing a National Strategy Team with a commission to examine a myriad of theological, Biblical, congregational, historic and legal issues that faced churches affiliated with the PC(USA).

When the National Strategy Team submitted its Report in February 2007, it concluded that Biblically-faithful congregations in the PC(USA) had two options.

● Those called by God to do so should remain in the denomination and work for the renewal and reformation of a flawed and straying denomination.

● Those called by God to do so should leave the PC(USA) and take up the work He ordained for them in a new part of His vineyard.

Starting in the Summer of 2006, at least 60 congregations, with 30,020 members began to take steps to leave the PC(USA), either by dismissal or disaffiliation. When the Evangelical Presbyterian Church created a non-geographic transitional presbytery to offer safe harbor to departing PC(USA) congregations, many of those who were departing moved to the EPC. After the Report was published, 44 congregations (24,662 members) moved to either the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC (currently 29 congregations and 21,532 members), to geographic presbyteries of the EPC, or to other Reformed bodies.

The churches that have left have followed two paths. Some have requested that their presbyteries dismiss them in accordance with the exclusive authority granted to presbyteries by §G-11.0103i of the Book of Order. Others have exercised their permissive powers (§G-7.0304a(5)) and have simply disaffiliated from the PC(USA). Those churches who have clear title to their property have taken their property with them. At least 5 in states whose law favors the denomination have simply walked away from their property to form new congregations.

In response to these losses, national leadership in Louisville has scrambled to delay departures until it can fix its poorly written, ambiguous Book of Order. The goal is clearly to coerce congregations to stay in the PC(USA) under threat of loss of property or litigation. The tactics follow this scheme:

1. Beginning in late November 2007, the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) began looking for a presbytery that would forward an overture to the 2008 GA, seeking to sever the PC(USA)’s correspondence with the EPC. Why? Because it would offer a parliamentary ploy that would allow presbyteries to refuse to dismiss congregations to the EPC. Presbytery of South Louisiana considered and rejected such an overture, but Peace River Presbytery came through for Louisville and forwarded such an overture.

[Technically, Peace River’s overture did not ask for severance of correspondence. Rather, it asked that the GA send a request to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) for investigation of whether the EPC was “recruiting” PC(USA) churches. Clif Kirkpatrick, the out-going Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), just happens to be the president of WARC.]

2. In presbyteries that allowed congregations to leave with their property (with or without payment of a ransom), a tiny minority of disgruntled commissioners were encouraged to delay the dismissal by appealing the presbytery’s action to the synod. This was the procedure followed in Synod of the Pacific when Presbytery of Sacramento approved monetary settlements with Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Roseville. Redstone Presbytery (southwestern Pennsylvania) has seen a similar appeal of its overwhelming dismissal of St Paul’s in Sommerset.

3. Finally, exercising what one astute blogger has called the “nuclear option,” the Synod of the Sun has installed an Administrative Commission to exercise original jurisdiction over the Presbytery of South Louisiana’s powers to dismiss churches with property. The AC is also empowered to inquire into other alleged discord and dissatisfaction within the presbytery and to report back to the synod. Presumably, the synod will then allow the AC to assume expanded original jurisdiction over the presbytery, the lack of constitutional authority to do so notwithstanding.

4. At the 2008 GA, a completely re-written Form of Government (FOG) will be presented. Although a number of presbyteries have sent overtures asking the GA to merely receive the proposal and to then send it to the presbyteries for two years of review and discernment, I am betting that Louisville will engineer a quick referral to the presbyteries for ratification. Why? Because the new (FOG) makes several changes that inure to Louisville’s game plan. The reference in the current Book of Order to “permissive powers of the congregation” have quietly disappeared. Moreover, in an ambiguously written revision, it appears that payment of per capita by congregations can be enforced.

The usurpation of the constitutionally delegated power of a presbytery’s functions with respect to property is particularly troubling. It clearly evidences a disdain for the constitution and an intent to maintain the status quo until the GA acts in June.

Churches that want to leave the PC(USA) with their property had better act quickly. They can no longer trust that the constitution means anything to those people in Louisville. More and more, disaffiliation appears to be the only constitutionally permissible means of severing a congregation’s voluntary affiliation with the PC(USA).

Corrected 4/30/2008


Strode said...

Hi Mac,

You wrote "Others have exercised their permissive powers (§G-7.0305a(5)) and have simply disaffiliated from the PC(USA)."

I assume that you meant G-7.0304a(5).

Would you expound on that provision and it's application in a future post?

Thank you, and keep on blogging!
Rich Strode

Mac said...

Rich: Absolutely right. I'll fix it.

Stay tuned.