Three churches in northern California cut ties with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and joined a smaller and more conservative denomination this month.
Among them was Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clovis which was officially constituted as an Evangelical Presbyterian Church congregation on Sunday.
During a meeting earlier this month, EPC's Presbytery of the West examined several pastors and their requests to transfer from the PC(USA) to the EPC. The Rev. Chuck Shillito of Trinity was received and on Sunday installed as pastor.
"We're growing up," Shillito said, noting that Trinity is on its way to becoming a church that has the heart of Jesus Christ for those who are most broken.
The Trinity congregation was encouraged to embrace the EPC as family and to bring many people to Christ through the new relationship.
Dozens of churches have left the PC(USA), citing the denomination's liberal direction on scriptural authority and homosexuality. Most recently, the 2008 General Assembly, the denomination's highest governing body, approved a proposal to delete from its constitution a requirement that clergy live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." It also approved an "authoritative interpretation" of the church constitution that allows gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object the current ordination ban on noncelibate homosexuals.
Many of the churches disaffected by such decisions have quit the PC(USA) and joined the EPC.
First Presbyterian Church of Fresno, Calif., and Fowler Presbyterian Church held services this month to transition to the 85,000-member EPC.
Dr. Jeffrey J. Jeremiah, stated clerk of the EPC, encouraged First Presbyterian worshippers to look to the future and to have confidence in their new denominational family.
"You are coming to a denomination that is unwavering ... in our commitment to Jesus Christ, ... the Bible, ...[and] orthodox biblical Christianity," Jeremiah told the Fresno congregation on Oct. 18. "You can be confident that in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church we will encourage you and support you."
Not all conservative Presbyterians are on the same page with regards to how to respond to what they see as actions contrary to Scripture. Presbyterians for Renewal introduced a proposal last week that would provide "a faithful alternative" to leaving the denomination.
To leave the PC(USA) would mean giving up and turning their back on the ministry to which God called them, the group noted.
The proposal calls for the creation of a new, non-geographic synod in the PC(USA). The new synod would be equal in every way to the existing 16 synods but rather than be identified by a geographic region, it would be identified by particular theological and missional commitments.
The reality is, the renewal group pointed out, the PC(USA) is neither united nor together and "attempts to force diverse congregations into 'dialogue,' feigning the authentic community of common faith, does not create connectional ministry."
"As a denomination, we are incapable of articulating a compelling unified witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ, the mission and purposes of God, the authority and interpretation of Scripture, and the role of the Church in the world," the renewal group stated. "We believe this new synod would provide an important means of moving the whole denomination toward missional and ministerial effectiveness."
The PC(USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country with 2.1 million members. It experienced its steepest membership decline in 2008 with the loss of 69,381 members. The negative trend began in the mid-1960s.