An Oklahoma church's leadership has decided to cut its ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA) over theological differences and has advised its congregation to vote accordingly.
First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, which was founded in 1889 and with an estimated 750 regular attendance, held a session in which they recommended breaking from their PC(USA) regional body, Indian Nations Presbytery.
The Rev. Mateen Elass, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Edmond, told The Christian Post that the situation was a complex one but that the major reason was theological.
"For us, the matter is complex, but the central issue is that of the diminished authority and unorthodox interpretation of the Word of God now prevalent in the PC(USA), especially among leaders," said Elass.
In a statement given to the congregation of First Presbyterian, Elass wrote that "recent decisions within the PC(USA) leave the impression that the slide into non-orthodox, theological liberalism and practice is only accelerating."
"Our firm desire is that when it comes time for a final congregational vote on dismissal from the PC(USA), we all as a church family will be as unified in our decision as possible," continued Elass.
Rules and guidelines for congregations planning to leave the PC(USA) can vary from presbytery to presbytery. According to Elass, Indian Nations does not have an official process for a congregation to be dismissed.
"[We] cannot outline with great specificity all the steps we must take to transfer to another Presbyterian denomination with our property intact," wrote Elass.
"A team from our church will work together with a team from presbytery to determine the best process. We anticipate a timeline of six to nine months before a final congregational vote for dismissal and Indian Nations Presbytery's concurrence to release us."
When asked by CP if he knew if any of the other 50 plus congregations in his presbytery were planning to leave for similar reasons, Elass could only speculate.
"We have heard rumors of others, but have not been in contact with any of our sister churches to find out where they presently stand," said Elass.
"Our presbytery executive stated publicly at the last presbytery meeting that he knew of two churches thinking about leaving. We, apparently, were one, though at that time we had not contacted him because we had not yet made any decision. He did not name the other."
The Indian Nations Presbyter of Presbyterian Church (USA) has 53 congregations including Edmond and is geographically concentrated in central and southwest Oklahoma.
First Presbyterian Church of Edmond has not yet decided on which conservative Presbyterian denomination it intends to join.
Indian Nations Presbytery did not return comment by press time.
The PC(USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country but has been experiencing membership decline over the past few decades. The PC(USA) officially lifted its ban last year on noncelibate homosexuals serving as clergy, a move that pushed more conservative congregations that were already concerned with the liberal direction of the denomination to sever ties.