An Oklahoma congregation affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to leave the denomination and join the more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order.
Members of First Presbyterian Church of Edmond voted Sunday to continue the process of dismissal from the Indian Nations Presbytery of PC(USA). According to the Edmond Sun, of those present, 815 voted in favor of dismissal while 55 voted against. Voting members had to be in good standing and present for the proceedings.
"I think this vote, a huge landslide vote, is a vindication of the direction that the leadership felt God was calling this congregation to move toward," said Mateen Elass, senior pastor of First Presbyterian, in an interview with the Edmond Sun.
Last year, the leadership at First Presbyterian opted to leave PC(USA) over the denomination's increasingly liberal theological positions.
Founded in 1889 and with a regular attendance of about 750 people, Elass of First Presbyterian told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that the matters surrounding the departure were complex but 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.
With the vote, leaders from First Presbyterian and Indian Nations met on Monday to discuss the details of the departure, including a financial settlement wherein the congregation would pay a one-time fee (said to be around $510,000) to the Presbytery in order to keep their church property.
"I suspect that will probably happen without much turmoil," said Tom Laubert, representative of the Indian Nations regional body, in an interview with local media.
First Presbyterian will be joining the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a recently created reformed body that came out of a major meeting of conservative Presbyterian clergy and lay leaders in Florida in Aug. 2011.
ECO is growing rapidly as many congregations who have taken issue with PC(USA)'s liberal theological positions look for another church to affiliate with.
When asked by CP in an earlier interview of other congregations in his presbytery planning to leave for similar reasons, Elass said he 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."