A Presbyterian megachurch will begin a series of town hall meetings this weekend as the congregation moves toward severing ties with their denominational family.
Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif., already initiated the process to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It will use the next six months for discussions and prayer as it discerns its future path.
The megachurch began evaluating the future theological direction of the PC(USA) 16 months ago, recognizing that current trends in the denomination did not align with their core beliefs.
On Feb. 2, the 2,000-member church unanimously voted to begin the process of "gracious dismissal" from the denomination and seek affiliation with the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The Danville congregation says they're seeing a "creeping tolerance of theological pluralism" in the PC(USA) as more denominational leaders take positions that are "inconsistent with the historical tenets of our faith."
"Biblical Authority is the primary issue," the church explained. "Over the years, increasingly unique interpretations of Scripture has had a ripple affect and has called into question foundational Christian beliefs such as the Lordship of Christ, the place of Scripture in church discipline, Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation and Biblical teaching on marriage."
The latest "Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians" report, released by the PC(USA), found that only two in five (39 percent) members agree or strongly agree that "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved." And even fewer pastors (35 percent) agree or strongly agree.
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." The measure, however, failed to receive the required majority approval from the 173 presbyteries.
The legislative body 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.
Community Presbyterian Church had concerns about the theological diversity for years, but it initiated the process to leave only recently after the San Francisco Presbytery passed a "Gracious Dismissal Process" that provides a means of amicable dismissal from the PC(USA).
"We believe that leaving under this process preserves the unity of the church, honors Christ and also those with whom we differ," the church stated.
The congregation is now hoping to depart peacefully and move on with their mission.
"Our passion and energy has been diverted. For years we have been dedicating time, talent and resources to internal struggles," CPC stated. "We would like to be released to more effective ministry and mission."
The San Francisco Presbytery, meanwhile, is hoping the congregation will stay.
"[Dismissal] is not the outcome I hope we get to," said Craig Palmer, interim executive presbyter, according to The Layman.
Four town hall meetings are scheduled for the next several months. A congregational vote is tentatively scheduled for mid-September.