Presbyterians Experiencing Division as Reformation Sunday Nears

Plagued by tense splits over church practices, Presbyterians will nevertheless be celebrating Reformation Sunday on Oct. 30.

Dr. Charles A. Wiley III, coordinator for Theology, Worship and Education at PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council, told The Christian Post Tuesday that he hopes Reformation Sunday will help Presbyterians “re-commit” to the message of the Reformation.

“I would hope that Presbyterian churches would re-commit themselves to the central insights of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. These watchwords have served the church well to focus us on Jesus Christ,” said Wiley.

The celebration will take place not long after Fremont Presbyterian Church, a congregation located in Sacramento, Calif., voted to break away from the PC(USA).

The decision came months after the majority of PC(USA) congregations voted to overturn the denomination’s ban on openly homosexual clergy. Fremont proceeded to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

As with other mainline Protestant denominations, PC(USA) has been weathering declining membership over the past few decades, as well as defecting congregations.

Conservative Presbyterian groups, like the Fellowship of Presbyterians, are advocating for reform and propose ideas like returning to a strong biblical tradition and reducing ecclesiastical bureaucracy.

Originally called the “Fellowship PC(USA),” they held a major gathering in Minneapolis in August and are planning to hold another in Orlando in January 2012.

In a letter sent out to members Monday, Fellowship of Presbyterians President Jim Singleton expressed his pleasure with the progress made in Minneapolis.

“It was a rare experience in many ways. We have heard repeatedly from folks across the theological and political spectrum of the denomination that they saw the Spirit of the living God moving and active in our midst – vibrant worship, deep fellowship, and a vision for Christ-honoring mission,” wrote Singleton.

Wiley, however, does not believe these congregations are doing something positive, least of all when compared to the Protestant Reformers.

“The Reformers, Calvin in particular, did not believe he was dividing the church, but was calling the one true church to repentance and reform. At the same time, he believed that the unity of the church was of the utmost importance,” said Wiley.

“I do believe that Calvin would have been discouraged by the amount of squabbling that goes on in Presbyterian churches and our lack of theological rigor, whatever our theological perspective.”

Reformation Sunday is the annual remembrance of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, located in present day Germany.

Ways to observe the Sunday include singing Reformation hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and preaching about the ideas of Luther and Presbyterian Church founder John Calvin.