PC(USA) Probes EPC's Role in Church Splits

A task force in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) launched an investigation into the conduct of a smaller and more conservative Presbyterian denomination and its alleged solicitation of congregations.

The PC(USA) panel began visiting nine presbyteries where congregations have voted to leave the denomination or are currently considering disaffiliation and joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, according to the Presbyterian News Service.

Last summer, the PC(USA) General Assembly approved a resolution to refer an investigation of charges against the EPC to a permanent committee. Charges include "actively pursuing a strategy to persuade Presbyterian Church (USA) churches to disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church."

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The General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations later named a task force to begin the investigation, which includes interviews with leaders and members that left and those that remained.

Accusations against the EPC were publicized last year when Grace Chapel of Madison, Miss., voted to sever ties with the Mississippi Presbytery of the PC(USA) and realign with an EPC presbytery. The Mississippi Presbytery accused the EPC of "unwelcome interference and hostile actions" and of encouraging the congregation to leave.

The EPC, which consists of some 85,000 members, denied the claims and argued that its policy is "to not solicit, initiate contact, or recruit churches and leaders who are outside our denomination."

The Rev. Steve Bryant of Grace Chapel also has stated that his congregation was not "recruited" into the EPC, as reported by The Layman.

Grace Chapel was part of a growing number of congregations leaving the 2.3 million-member PC(USA) and realigning with the EPC.

While church splits have occurred for decades in the PC(USA), recent actions by the denomination's highest governing body have forced a larger exodus. Such actions include the General Assembly not affirming the singular saving lordship of Jesus Christ in 2001 and the governing body approving a measure in 2006 that many believe allowed some leeway to churches for homosexual ordination.

More recently in 2008, the General Assembly sent an overture that would essentially allow non-celibate gays and lesbians to be ordained to the PC(USA)'s 173 presbyteries for approval.

As more churches began requesting membership into the EPC, the smaller denomination created in 2007 the New Wineskins-Evangelical Presbyterian Church Transitional Presbytery to accommodate the requests.

Last month, an EPC commission passed a draft proposal on transitioning the new congregations into full members of the EPC. The final proposal will be presented at the EPC's 29th General Assembly in June.

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