Two Mississippi Presbyterian churches have voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) over increasing theological differences.
The congregations at First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs and First Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula voted Sunday to leave the 2 million-member PC(USA) and join the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Matt Mitchell, pastor of FPC Pascagoula, told The Christian Post that his congregation of 337 members voted to leave because of a sense that the denomination has left its "biblical center."
"For many years our church has struggled with the PC(USA)'s continued shift away from a biblical center," said Mitchell. "Our members feel that biblical integrity will and should always trump social desires and therefore felt it was an appropriate time to make this move."
Mitchell said that another issue his church had with the PC(USA) was its gradual move "away from a bottom up structure where the General Assembly exists for the local church to one where the local body seems only to exist to prop up the offices in Louisville."
At Pascagoula, out of 206 voting members present on Sunday, 188 voted to disaffiliate with the PC(USA), 16 voted against, and 2 abstained. At Ocean Springs, out of 247 voting members present, 240 voted in favor of disaffiliation, while 3 voted against and 4 abstained.
"In a recent survey, almost 60 percent of PC(USA) pastors could not affirm the fact that Christ is the only way to salvation," said Mitchell.
"How can we possibly continue to have a witness to the world when the pastors or a particular denomination can't even affirm one of the most basic principles in Scripture?"
Pascagoula and Ocean Springs are two of many Presbyterian churches across the country whose congregations have voted to leave the PC(USA) denomination since 2010. For many, the final straw came with the 219th General Assembly, where a majority of presbyteries voted to allow regional bodies to approve the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy. Churches that leave the PC(USA) often decide to join other, more conservative Presbyterian denominations.
Pascagoula decided to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Mitchell told CP that his congregation preferred EPC for a variety of reasons.
"Their willingness to affirm what their essentials tenets of faith are was refreshing. Their focus on mission and church planting was exciting," he noted.
"We spend so much time fighting in the PC(USA) over property and assets and Synods, and all sorts of things that aren't that important. They are simply unwilling to allow those issues to get in the way of Kingdom work."
Both churches belong to the Presbytery of Mississippi. While they have approved disaffiliation, both congregations will have to wait until May 17 to find out if the presbytery will approve their dismissal as well allow them to keep their name and leadership.
As with some regional bodies with congregations who have voted in recent months to leave, the Mississippi Presbytery voted against Amendment 10a.
The Presbytery of Mississippi did not return comment by press time.