Dear Saints at First Pres,
There have been a few more questions asked about ECO that I have not yet had an opportunity to answer in print. See if these are your questions as well:
1. Why is the session recommending ECO instead of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)?
First, I think it should be noted that these are two really good choices. The EPC pulled away from what was then called the UPCUSA in the early 1980s. The reasons they started the EPC were similar to the reasons we face today – lack of biblical authority and a theological pluralism that diminished the content of the faith. The centers of the EPC were in Detroit and Denver. Cherry Hills Community Church and Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church are two churches where I have worshipped in the Denver area. The congregation in Memphis that sent me to seminary (Second Presbyterian Church) went to the EPC. For 25 years, the EPC experienced steady but not substantial growth. In the past 5 years, it has grown with a number of PCUSA congregations that entered through a movement known as “New Wineskins.” Currently, there are over 300 congregations in the EPC. The EPC is known by solid
Reformed faith, with only the Westminster Confession of Faith as its standard.
I saw three reasons that the First Pres Session chose ECO instead of EPC. One was cultural – it just seemed like First Pres will fit better in something new and more entrepreneurial, rather than enter a denomination with its culture intact. I have a sense that in two years there could be 500 congregations leaving the PCUSA for ECO. That number would be hard for an existing denomination like the EPC to swallow.
Second, First Pres has been an early adopter on women’s ordination, dating back to Tammy Mitchell Letts. That initial call to a female pastor was controversial, but has been followed by Jennifer Oraker Holz, JoAnn Brechbill, Sara Singleton, Amber Odvody, and Katie Dayton. While ECO is affirming of women in ministry, the EPC holds a more ambiguous position on women in ministry. Women are allowed to be deacons, elders, and pastors if a church desires them. But it is not encouraged or celebrated. Two Presbyteries among the nine do not allow women to be ordained in their bounds – the other seven do allow it.
I am very aware that there are members at First Pres who are still not convinced women’s ordination is the right way to go. There are two lines of thought on the Biblical data surrounding women in ministry. Both sides hold a high view of scripture, but interpret this issue differently. I taught on the biblical issues that surround women in ministry last Sunday (April 15th). If you missed it, you can access an audio recording on our web site under the MEDIA tab. There is certainly room to agree to disagree on this issue.
The third reason is one of accountability. We think the covenanted and ordered nature of ministry between congregations who join ECO will be a great benefit to us in our future work. Congregations will be working together in ways that never happened in the PCUSA.
2. How will business be conducted in ECO? Will it remain representative in local church government or will it become more congregational?
ECO is clearly Presbyterian in church government and guided in most decisions by a representative body of elders. The way we handle matters in ECO will look very much like the way we handle matters of church business today.
3. How is unity in the body of Christ manifest if there is another church split?
There are a several issues at stake in that question. One is that each split in a local congregation or denomination must grieve God’s heart. Each split is a testimony to the work of the “splitter” in this world. Christ desires that his body be one. But an institutional oneness has been incredibly hard to sustain ever since the Reformation. A new denomination is formed in the U.S. every week (approximately 50 a year). Further, the number of independent Protestant congregations outnumbers all denominational Protestant congregations in the US. Hence, there is real breakdown in organizational unity now. However, I do find a rich unity in Christ that is larger than organizational unity. The Lausanne Movement is a wonderful expression of lots of Evangelicals around the world working together for Christ, yet not trying to have an organizational unity. So many relationships
draw congregations together. Likely my best pastor friend in Colorado Springs is Matt Heard of Woodman Valley Chapel. There are several reasons for that. One is significant theological agreement between us. Another is that we pastor congregations that have great similarity. Third, we just enjoy our fellowship in Christ. Thus, there is a great kinship in Christ even though we are not in the same organization. Much of what will emerge out of the founding of ECO will depend upon how much that group is willing to reach to others within the body of Christ and build bridges.
You should have already received a letter this week from the First Pres Session asking you to be present for the vote meeting this Sunday. I will look forward to seeing you there.