- (Photo courtesy FPC Houston)
A prominent Texas congregation voted narrowly on Sunday to remain with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after debating over theological differences and considering a switch over to another conservative evangelical denomination.
The majority of members at First Presbyterian Church of Houston were in favor of moving to Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. However, the final decision fell short of the required two-thirds majority by 36 votes.
"This is the toughest possible outcome in many people's minds. To fall a few votes short will be very tough for them. I'm a little bit disappointed. I came out very strongly and passionately in favor of the move," said Pastor Jim Birchfield, reports the Houston Chronicle.
The vote ended a year-long "season of discernment" for the historic megachurch in which members were encouraged to study the Bible and pray before making their decision.
Birchfield, along with those who voted to leave the PCUSA, told The Christian Post last year that they wanted to make the move because they believe the denomination "may be drifting" from a Christ-centered theology, especially with their approval to allow non-celibate homosexuals to serve as clergy members. The PCUSA is also expected to broaden their definition of marriage in the next few months.
Furthermore, Birchfield expressed concern over the denomination's ability to attract younger individuals to their churches.
Others argued that they preferred a less strict interpretation of theology and at one point, a member testified during Sunday's vote that she feared the church's affiliation with ECO would make her "a member of a congregation that distinguishes itself by its homophobia," reports the Texas Tribune.
However, the switch to ECO would have been a better fit for the church, noted Birchfield, as he believes his church's purpose aligns with the denomination's vision of living out the Great Commission, including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion and redemptive justice.
Now, he is concerned with keeping his 3,000-member church together after most members sided with him to disaffiliate from the PCUSA.
"We have to begin reconciling the two sides, and that will begin immediately. We'll also begin reconciling among the leadership. For the most part, we have had a very gracious debate," he said.
On its Facebook page, news of the resolution's failure to pass evoked various opinions from those connected to First Presbyterian.
Elizabeth Lusk Robbins posted that they "prayed for God's mighty will in this vote," adding, "As God has chosen to have us stay with PCUSA we now pray that He would allow us to work for major change within the organization."
"I was a member of FPC from 1974 to 1991 when I lived in Houston. I went through the process the first time FPC had a vote about leaving PCUSA and I remember how hard it was," posted Mark Andrus.
First Presbyterian would have been the second largest Texas congregation to have made the switch to ECO in recent times. Last October, Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which boasts nearly 4,000 members, voted to leave the PCUSA Grace Presbytery for ECO.
PCUSA has over 10,000 member churches and 1.8 million worshippers. ECO, founded in 2012, has just 112 member churches.
Christian Post reporter Michael Gryboski contributed to this report.