A group of conservative Presbyterian churches say accusations made by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Mississippi Presbytery are based on misinformation.
The presbytery has accused the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) – a network of churches discontent with the liberal direction of the PC(USA) – and the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination of interfering and encouraging a local congregation to quit the PC(USA). It voted earlier this year to ask that a formal complaint be filed against the conservative groups.
In a response letter released this week, NWAC leaders proposed meeting with the presbytery along with the PC(USA)'s head, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, to clarify events around the departure of Grace Chapel of Madison, Miss., and to seek a "peaceful resolution of differences."
Grace Chapel had voted in August to sever ties with the PC(USA), citing the denomination's "departure" from biblical principles and hostilities toward conservative congregations in the PC(USA), according to The Layman Online, a conservative Presbyterian publication. The congregation was received into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church's National Transitional Presbytery that month.
The Presbytery of Mississippi alleged "unwelcome interference and hostile actions of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church … the active involvement of the EPC, which encouraged the congregation to leave," as reported by The Layman.
In a statement last month, the EPC argued that its policy and practice is "to not solicit, initiate contact, or recruit churches and leaders who are outside our denomination."
"To date, complaints received by the office of the General Assembly about the activities of EPC leaders have been found to be based on inaccurate information," the statement said.
Grace Chapel's pastor, the Rev. Steven S. Bryant Sr., told The Layman that the EPC did not initiate contact with his church nor did it proselytize.
Rather, Bryant was encouraged by EPC's National Transitional Presbytery to make their decision to leave or stay in the PC(USA) prayerfully, he said.
The latest response letter dated Monday also suggested that Grace Chapel "has never been an endorsing congregation" of the NWAC.
"The New Wineskins Association of Churches has repeatedly stated that we consider it to be faithful to Christ and His Church for Presbyterian congregations to either remain affiliated with the PC(USA) or to realign with another Reformed body, as God so calls a particular congregation," according to the letter.
While congregations that have chosen to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) have done so for various reasons, NWAC leaders insisted that "in all cases ... the decisions have been made by local congregations."
"We do not advise one action or another; we try only to provide accurate information about various alternatives when requested," the letter stated.
A small but growing number of congregations have left or are currently in a discernment process of deciding whether to leave the PC(USA). More churches have contacted the EPC and requested full membership into the smaller denomination. To accommodate the growing number, the EPC created last June the New Wineskins-Evangelical Presbyterian Church Transitional Presbytery.