A letter to The Layman
Well, they are at it again. Imperial Louisville and its barons and earls (or is that Cardinals and Bishops?) have gundecked a nice little piece of extra-constitutional justification and dressed it in constitutional trappings. This time the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACOC) has recommended that this June’s General Assembly adopt an Authoritative Interpretation regarding the constitutionality of dismissal of congregations to the New Wineskins Transitional Non-geographic Presbytery of the EPC.
Friends, as pigs go, it is dressed up real nice….but it is still a pig.
In a feat of legerdemain that would do the Spahr court proud, they admit that presbyteries have the power (unless you are in Southern Louisiana), but they must actively assure themselves that the receiving body is one “whose organization is conformed to the doctrines and order of this church.”
They then opine that the EPC is not such a body because it has a defined set of Essential Tenets which elders, teaching and ruling, must affirm without any reservation! Oh, the shame of it all. The EPC is ready to say to the whole world just what it believes.
The Merlin's of Louisville go on to state that
In both our polity and in the theology on which it is founded, we have long recognized that “reservations” and points of disagreement in some matters of faith are not only inevitable but ultimately nourishing for the health of the church. Moreover, we have resisted listing the “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” (W-4.4003c), precisely because such lists tend to confine the theology of the church within the narrow strictures of the historical moment in which the list was created, robbing it of its life and liveliness. For this reason, we have deemed it wise to have not one confessional statement but a Book of Confessions (Part I of this denomination’s constitution), in which are registered multiple statements of faith that stand in both mutual support and occasional tension. Can such theological suppleness be said to characterize the doctrines of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?
“Theological suppleness” is the way to go. Forget the unchanging nature of God’s call on us. We need to make sure that no one goes to a denomination that does not reserve the right to change God’s inerrant and unchanging Word by adding the manmade “life and liveliness” of the moment. That is why it is better to have “multiple statements of faith that stand in both mutual support and occasional tension.” It is a Chinese restaurant theology—pick one from column A and another from column B.
So, out of an abundance of theological caution, they imply that dismissal is probably not permissible.
You know what? If they had just stopped right there, they might have at least had a colorable argument, weak though it is. But they go on to what really galls them.
What happens to congregations in transitional presbyteries that elect not to be received into full EPC membership . . . [w]hen the five-year sunset date for the provisions is reached [?]
* * * * * * * *
Neither the EPC Book of Government or (sic) the enabling actions of the 27th General Assembly contain any property trust provisions; indeed, both maintain absolute congregational ownership of church property. This appears to mean that congregations dismissed from membership in EPC transitional presbyteries at or before the sunset date for transitional presbyteries may thereby attain independent status. It thus appears quite possible that a congregation seeking membership in an EPC transitional presbytery may be, in effect if not in actual intent, seeking dismissal to independent status. Such an eventuality would result in the loss of the investment of the time, money, energy, and faithfulness of generations of Presbyterians to the witness of the Reformed faith. It would certainly violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Anderson and Bagby decisions. (Emphasis added.)
So there it is. The property pig all dressed up in polity gingham. ACOC's real gripe with the EPC is that it trusts its congregations to stay in the denomination so long as the denomination stays faithful to Scripture. The difference between the two is this:
The EPC recognizes that if it strays from the essential tenets of the Reformed faith, the faithful have the right to leave; that coercion through a “property trust” (even one that is unenforceable, such as the PC(USA)’s ) is immoral, or as my nine-year old would say "just plain wrong."
In the PC(USA) the only essential tenet is “we can believe any old heresy we want and if you don’t like it, we’ll try to take your building and the hymn books and the little plastic communion cups.”
It is still all about property!