Roughly 100,000 Presbyterians want a new paradigm of "being the Church" because in their current or, for some, former denominational home, they feel they cannot be faithful to Christ.
"It is our belief that we live at the very precipice of a new moment in history when God is yet again reforming and reshaping His church as He has done in the days of old," said the Rev. Dr. D. Dean Weaver, senior pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church Pittsburgh.
The conservative New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) has offered churches that are discontent with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) several ways to get on with their mission - the Great Commission - as they wrestle with conflict in the national church.
Already, 46 churches of NWAC's 180 congregations have voted to leave the PC(USA) over the denomination's liberal direction on Scripture and theology, according to The Layman, a conservative Presbyterian publication. And according to a list made public this week of congregations that have joined a newly created presbytery, 16 have voted to realign with the New Wineskins-Evangelical Presbyterian Church Transitional Presbytery, which was created by the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church in June.
The presbytery, also referred to as a "support network," was inaugurated Tuesday during NWAC's fourth convocation in Fair Oaks, Calif.
"New Wineskins is not just about leaving one denomination for another," said Weaver, also co-moderator of the NWAC. "In fact, I would suggest to you it's not about denominations at all. It's about the new thing that God is doing in our midst and the desire to get on with being a truly evangelical and Presbyterian missional church."
The New Wineskins network representing about 100,000 Presbyterians was formed in 2001 after the General Assembly of the PC(USA) would not affirm the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Conservative Presbyterians began discussing what a church in the 21st century and faithful to Christ would look like as they tried to rediscover their Reformed and Presbyterian roots.
Further controversy was stirred in the PC(USA) when the denomination adopted a resolution in 2006 that gave some leeway to churches for homosexual ordination.
The claims of truth "have been reduced to mere opinions and morality adds up to no more than your particular set of personal preferences. Many Presbyterians really believe that God says nothing other than what we put in His mouth," the Rev. Noel Anderson, executive pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, Calif., told more than 400 people at the Oct. 28-30 convocation.
"In the PC(USA), we no longer are united by clear confessions or doctrines but, instead, we tolerate each other and celebrate the unity of polity and property. Property is the new confession," he added.
The conservative bunch was done trying to bring about change for an organization that had only resisted it, Weaver explained as he described the birth and growth of the NWAC.
It was now time to "design a new expression" which was really an old expression of an evangelical and Reformed Presbyterian faith, said Weaver.
Their dream was to be a church that functioned more as a missions agency than a regulatory agency and a church that "unashamedly without any hesitation or reservation would profess Jesus Christ as the only way, the only truth and the only life and that no one would come to the Father but by him," Weaver highlighted.
The New Wineskins-Evangelical Presbyterian Church Transitional Presbytery was created to run under a newly designed constitution based on a grassroots polity rather than centralized authority and to connect missional churches with the purpose of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Weaver clarified that New Wineskins is not about polity but about being "grafted into the vine." The vine in Scripture represents Jesus.
Most churches in the NWAC are still praying and considering whether to leave.
"Where we are today is one of those messy times," Weaver said. "All over country there are churches wrestling with how they ought to continue on with their mission in NWAC."
Not all churches part of the network choose to leave the PC(USA), which is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country and suffering continual membership loss. Some want to and intend to stay. There, they are charged to carry out their missional and prophetic witness and fight for reform.
"If you're staying in the PC(USA), there's plenty to do," Anderson told the New Wineskins congregations while describing the PC(USA) as a "vineyard that has scarred vines - bad theology, ecclesiolatry, old ecumenism and leadership crises."
Work within the denomination includes condemning Presbyterian pride, "overcoming evangelical hesitation," and bearing fruit, he highlighted.
"We must focus on bearing fruit lest we be accused of simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," he said. "We are needed to correct misinformation, partner with smaller churches without resources, help other churches on their way into the New Wineskins Presbytery, promote damage control and to continue influencing the shape of the PCUSA. Some of us actually believe the church will right itself or, rather, be righted by God, who we believe can work miracles with denominations as well as individuals."
The PC(USA) is the country's ninth largest Christian group and claims nearly 11,000 congregations. While only a minority have disaffiliated from the national church, the denomination's head, stated clerk the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, has recognized the departures as serious.