(Photo: Brian Braun)
The leadership of the largest Texas-based congregation belonging to Presbyterian Church (USA) has recommended that the church leave the mainline denomination.
In a unanimous decision, the Session for Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas approved a resolution recommending dismissal from PC(USA).
With the Session's approval, the resolution will next go to the congregation for a vote scheduled to take place on Sunday, October 27.
William Montgomery, a spokesman for the Session at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, told The Christian Post that there were many reasons for the recommendation.
"PC(USA)'s lack of core theological beliefs; disagreement over the authority of Scripture and salvation through Jesus Christ alone; and the impact of PC(USA) governance policy and practices on the life of HPPC, particularly on the selection process for new pastors," said Montgomery.
If approved by the congregation, upon leaving PC(USA), Highland Park Presbyterian plans to join the Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO) of Presbyterians, a new, more conservative body.
The appeal of ECO lies in its evangelical theology, focus on local churches, and conviction to "essential beliefs," explained Montgomery to CP.
"We expect the process of discernment to be a time of great discussion, learning and prayer. What happens at the end of that process is up to the congregation and God himself," said Montgomery.
Earlier this month, Highland Park Presbyterian, which has approximately 4,000 members, filed suit in Dallas County District Court over the rights to the church property.
The suit sought to provide legal protection over the congregation's claim to the Highland Park property over any claim the national denomination's regional body, or presbytery, might make should the congregation vote to leave.
Currently, Highland Park Presbyterian belongs to the Grace Presbytery of PC(USA), having joined the regional body in 1983.
Regarding the suit over the rights to the church property, Montgomery provided CP with an update on the legal action.
"The temporary restraining order preserving the status quo with regard to the use and control of the HPPC property remains in effect," said Montgomery.
"A federal court hearing is scheduled for October 7th on HPPC's motion to send the case back to state district court."
In a statement posted on their website, Grace Presbytery expressed disappointment and surprise at the lawsuit being filed against them by Highland Park Presbyterian.
"We are shocked and saddened that Highland Park Presbyterian Church (HPPC) of Dallas has chosen to file suit, today, September 10, and request an injunction that will take us into civil court," said the Presbytery.
Janet M. DeVries, M.Div, D.Min., General Presbyter for Grace Presbytery, told The Christian Post that Highland Park's leadership was circumventing the proper process for dismissal.
"While Highland Park's session can recommend dismissal to another Reformed body, Highland Park's lawsuit circumvents and interferes with the established ecclesiastical dismissal process," said DeVries.
"The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Just and Gracious Dismissal Policy of Grace Presbytery provide for a process which enables the congregation to hear and discuss both the PC(USA) and the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO)."
DeVries also told CP that she believed the current restraining order on the church property "prevents members of the congregation from receiving information about the PCUSA from Grace Presbytery prior to the vote of the congregation."
"The policy of the presbytery calls for such information and discernment to occur prior to the congregational vote, planned by a joint team from the congregation and Grace Presbytery," said DeVries.
"The temporary restraining order prevents Grace Presbytery's participation in this process, and the congregation has no authority under the PC(USA) Book of Order unilaterally to call for a congregational vote."