A theologically conservative Presbyterian group held an event Monday in Pittsburgh to help equip churches that are considering separation from the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The New Wineskins Association of Churches, the group that sponsored the event, hopes to have churches return to a “historic orthodox faith.”
“Many churches are asking questions, both theological and civil, in their process of discerning where God is leading them to serve the Kingdom. We decided to hold an event because no one else was stepping forward to address these hard questions,” said Eric Amundson, pastor and board member for the NWAC, in an interview with The Christian Post.
“We are simply seeking to help congregations access some of the resources that they may be able to faithfully seek answers in their own situation. We are not seeking to answer God's leading for any particular congregation in any particular situation, just to provide our experience and resources.”
Over the past couple generations, mainline Protestant churches have seen declines in membership and attendance, which conservatives attribute to liberalism entering their respective denominations.
Within the Presbyterian denomination, groups like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church formed back in the 1980s due to the belief that mainline congregations had fallen to liberal ideology.
The most recent effort to leave the PC(USA) goes back to May when the majority of the denomination’s 173 district governing bodies (or presbyteries) voted to allow the ordination of openly homosexual clergy.
The NWAC-sponsored event comes while the Fellowship of Presbyterians, another conservative Presbyterian organization, prepares for its “Covenanting Convention” in Orlando in January 2012.
Earlier this year in August, the FOP had a gathering in Minneapolis in which nearly 2,000 Presbyterians attended. Their convention laid down a tier system to define the extent to which congregations wanted to distance themselves from the PC(USA) and create a “new Reformed body,” an entity that would be different from other currently existing groups.
This four-tiered system ranged from tier 1, which would involve a congregation remaining with the PC(USA) while forging ties to the FOP to tier 4, in which a congregation would separate from the PC(USA) and join the new body.
FOP leaders acknowledge that there is technically a fifth tier, in which a congregation separating from the PC(USA) would join an existing Reformed body, most likely the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
“We believe it is up to each congregation to follow Christ's leading. Faithfulness may lead some to pursue leaving the PC(USA), and some to remain. Our event represents many possible, faithful outcomes of that discernment,” said Amundson.
Dr. Charles A. Wiley III, coordinator for Theology and Worship at PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council, does not approve of these proposals to leave PC(USA). Wiley explained to The Christian Post that if alive today John Calvin would not approve of these congregations opting to separate.
“I do believe that Calvin would have been discouraged by the amount of squabbling that goes on in Presbyterian churches and our lack of theological rigor, whatever our theological perspective,” said Wiley.