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Lipstick on A Pig: the ECO and Its Plan to Split the PCUSA

This is a schism. Just because it is being orchestrated by smart, tall-steeple pastors who are our friends and evangelical theologians whom we have all respected doesn’t make it any less of one.

There is a split coming in the Presbyterian Church USA.  The new denomination, which calls itself the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) was established last month in Orlando as a “new Reformed body” to which disgruntled member churches of the PCUSA might be dismissed.  The denominational rollout was beautiful, thoughtful, even gracious, in that the fire-breathers of the movement did not seem overtly on display.  But  as smooth as that presentation was, for those who intend to stay in the PCUSA, there needs to be a frank discussion about what is going on here that foregoes the usual presbyspeak which avoids confrontation at all costs.  Usually, that’s a strength of our system. But not now.

I was surprised when learning of the denomination’s name.  It is fascinating that the organization includes the word “covenant” in its name, even as it invites PCUSA members, elders and churches to lay aside those which they have already made.  It is their intent to take their talents, gifts and resources away from us and leave the rest of us to manage mission projects both locally, nationally and around the world which they helped to start and which heretofore, in covenant, had maintained.  One would think that, if covenant was of such importance that these folks would set themselves to keep theirs, rather than constructing newer, easier ones for themselves in the wake of a vote that didn’t go their way.  Not surprisingly, ECO has very little to say about their past covenants and is instead focusing its energies on constructing the next ones, which they swear they will keep this time.  I’m deeply grateful for the hundreds of thousands of faithful evangelical Presbyterians who were grieved by the results of the vote on ordination standards last summer but who nonetheless have remained and will remain true to their covenants and who thus will work for change the way we always have as Presbyterians.  It is such people who understand what it is to be a Presbyterian and who grasp the real meaning of what a covenanted life is all about.  For them, covenant isn’t about whether their side wins or loses.  They have been called to a life “in the harness” with others with whom they often disagree and yet they intend to remain true to that calling and all its attendant vows for the rest of their days.  May God bless them for their faithfulness.

I want to focus in this post on the curious construal of connectionalism that the ECO envisions as the covenanted life for congregations.  As befitting our consumer culture, there are three ways that a congregation can connect with the ECO.  First, for the furious and unreconcilable congregation, they can be dismissed from the PCUSA and welcomed into the blessed rest of everlasting peace by making the ECO their final destination.  This makes the most sense, of course, because what’s the point of claiming there is a status confessionis (a crisis point in the life of the church which requires that a new line in the sand be drawn to deamarcate truth from error, which is precisely the point at which we are, the ECOers have been saying) if we aren’t making a place for which to leave?  Although on their website, ECO seems to have gone to great pains to downplay the rift, anybody who has been following things over the years knows that this is the justification for why this has to be done. Despite the fact that the theological substance of the justification for the split is fuzzy to many of us, this position to an extent has to be respected, in my opinion, because it manifests the courage of their convictions and isn’t just a lot of talk, which is what we have had.  They feel they must go, so I believe we should let them.  Of course, if there were real rather than trumped-up theological issues at stake which would actually justify a split they certainly should have been filing heresy charges years ago against persons whom they think are in error but with whom they instead have been amicably working in presbyteries for ages, but better late than never, I suppose.

But this is not the only option.  The ECO will, incredibly, let churches swing both ways. They will allow a kind of “half-way covenant” for congregations who can’t quite make up their minds.  They can walk in the light at the ECO presbytery meeting on Tuesday and yet have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness at their meeting on the very next Saturday, all with apparently perfect consistency!  I can understand why a congregation might want to do this–you can have all the benefits of the money, power and history of the PCUSA while thumbing your nose at it by signing up with the ECO.  But why would you even need an ECO if it wasn’t for having to get away from the unfruitful works of darkness in the first place?  Why would the congregations who are trying to flee from the Devil let him have his foot in the door by a union?  If it’s OK to be in covenant with a church who works with homosexuals or universalists in other churches, why waste the time and money to create a whole new structure? Can you imagine Athanasius making such a deal with Arian congregations or Luther offering an olive branch to his inquisitors at the Diet of Worms?  If there has to be a “a line drawn in the sand”, how can you in the very next action, rub out the line?  It makes not a whit of theological sense to me and thus appears be a pragmatic decision designed to take advantage of any impulse of a congregation to react negatively to the vote on ordination standards.  The ECO is apparently intent, not simply on doctrinal purity as they have maintained, but on leveraging the anger of PCUSA congregations to its maximum extent in order to build their brand.  Fifty years from now, when their grandchildren cringe over this decision as we did those who made the same error in the 1850s (“You split the denomination over WHAT?”) and each of our two denominations’ descendants will be trying to piece back together that which is now being rent asunder, such union congregations will be needed.  But right now, they will harm the PCUSA and should be rejected outright by all of its presbyteries.

The intent of the ECO can be seen even more clearly in light of the THIRD way in which congregations can connect with the ECO.  Does your congregation owe money to the presbytery for a building project and can’t get dismissed until the balance is paid off?  Do you have a majority of elders on your session who want to leave the PCUSA but you don’t yet have the two-thirds necessary majority among the general membership to get the job done?  Do you have the required majority to be dismissed but are blocked by a big tither who won’t be moved from the denomination of his or her forebears? Well the ECO has a plan for your church while you are in ecclesiastical limbo, so that you can show your colors until the time is right to make your move. The ECO has a plan to partner with what it calls “affinity groups,” which are PCUSA congregations who are kind of “bi-curious” and who for whatever reason can do no more than dip their toe into the water of schism rather than diving in.  Not to fear. You can affiliate with them without being dismissed by your presbytery. This policy is being presented by the ECO  under the guise of doing joint mission, but Presbyterian churches don’t need any kind of affiliational decision to do mission with a congregation of any other denomination,  Presbyterian or otehrwise. We work across denominational lines every day. My congregation will work with anybody who serves the same ends, even if we don’t share the same theology—we work with both Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian congregations, for example.  No, this isn’t about mission. It is aimed specifically at PCUSA congregations (see their polity document) and appears rather to be about harnessing resentment for the benefit of the new brand and to the detriment of the old.  Angry congregations who can’t leave can still make public protest by joining an ECO-recognized affinity group. The ECO has a plan for every congregation; no matter how angry, they’ll work with you!

All of this should be very troubling to traditional Presbyterians.  It doesn’t matter how mellifluous the name of the new denomination sounds; they come preaching schism and an ongoing one at that, which appears designed to diminish by whatever available means the resources and energy of the PCUSA.  It isn’t about doctrinal conviction, for if it were there would be but one option: either in or out.  That is our way. Thus, Presbyteries should countenance neither the second or third options proffered by ECO.  Allowing either of these decisions to stand in congregations would be to imbibe the cancer of schism in the name of some odd kind of forbearance.  Normally, not reacting would be the best and easiest path to the amicable resolution of such a dispute.  But that doesn’t seem possible here, when the ECO seems intent on doing all it can to undermine the life and mission of the PCUSA.  Churches that vote to align with the ECO in any way should be presumed by presbyteries to be intent upon renouncing the jurisdiction of the PCUSA and should thus be given a certain time frame in which to be formally dismissed from that presbytery under that presbytery’s dismissal policy.  If the congregation does not comply by the date set by the presbytery, then unless there are mitigating factors, the presbytery should dissolve the pastoral relationship and the session and assume original jurisdiction.

This is a schism.  Just because it is being orchestrated by smart, tall-steeple pastors who are our friends and evangelical theologians whom we have all respected doesn’t make it any less of one.  John Ortberg’s sermon on the ECO site which “introduces” the new denomination is brilliant, passionate and powerful for the first 17 minutes, for example, but urges on his hearers thereafter a complete capitulation of Reformed ecclesiology.  There isn’t another nice way to put this.  You can, as they say, put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.  So the response to this movement, therefore, has to be different from what has been the norm, which, for the most part, has been forbearance.  This is an existential threat to the life of the PCUSA.  It’s horrible that it has come to this, but it is what is.  The schismatics are threatening the body, and the body has a responsibility to protect itself from the harm.  It can’t do this by downplaying what is happening or placating those threatening to leave in the hopes that this will make the problem disappear.

The PCUSA welcomes dissent.  The PCUSA is a denomination teeming with evangelicals.  We need evangelicals to stay.  No one wants anybody to leave.  But if people are insistent on going, then they should go, not part way, but all the way out. There should be a gracious separation and we should part on as good of terms as possible.  They should not, however, be allowed to draw and undraw their line in the sand as it suits them, congregation by congregation, angling for the best terms. Nor should they be allowed to draw this matter out, year after year, threatening to leave if they don’t get their way on the next issue over which we can’t agree. This is what I fear could happen in presbyteries where they allow union congregations and affinity groups. Long arguments with your family are normal; they are draining with people who have decided you are the enemy.   Our understanding of ecclesiology is at stake here. If the ECO insists there is to be a line, then so be it.

44 thoughts on “Lipstick on A Pig: the ECO and Its Plan to Split the PCUSA

  1. Wow! This is very true. I heard a comment about “faithful disagreement” yesterday. But, this draws a very important “line in the sand.”

    1. Jennifer. of course. but the question is, Whose understanding of God’s Word is the one which the Spirit would have us follow at this moment? And in the PCUSA, we have always believed that the answer to this question is to be decided in the body of believers through a centuries-old process. That process has spoken, but rather than live with it, folks are threatening to cut and run. If what I believed has been counter to God’s Word, then why have those in my presbytery who disagree with me, but who are now moving to join up with the ECO, not brought ecclesiastical charges against me for my “heretical” beliefs? I serve in the same presbytery in which I became an inquirer more than twenty years ago. Because I was, for years, an intentional interim minister, I have moved in and out of this presbytery several times and thus have been examined four times in that period by the same people, yet not once has anyone ever questioned my orthodoxy. But now that a vote goes my way they have to abandon our common work together? Seriously? This is what is so very wrong about this process. If this was a primary issue, an issue of maximum doctrinal concern, then the ECO folks would be justified in leaving. But it is not and never has been an issue like that, but only a secondary matter of biblical interpretation of a particular ordination standard. If it had been a matter of such great import they would have taken me out twenty years ago, rather than worked side by side with me for much of the last generation. And if they couldn’t have taken me out, they would’ve left all those years ago. But the fact is, I confess the same faith they do. I acknowledge the authority of scripture same as they do. They are my colleagues. We are covenant partners together. And you can’t just split off from people and break your covenants over non-essential matters, which this is.

      1. How can you believe in the authority of scripture and change it to suit the times? God’s word does not change. Yes, you can and should split off when people try to change the Bible in an effort to be politically correct.

  2. The saddest thing is, I doubt this will even last.

    Splinter churches are held together by a common chord of discontent.

    United churches are bound in covenant by a common vision of the future.

    1. It could very easily go the other way and be wildly popular, Marsha. Getting rid of all the dissenters has long been a favorite tactic for numerical growth. I remember a chapel service for pastoral students at Liberty University where I studied as an undergrad at which Jerry Falwell told us that when we got into our pastorates we would need to run off 25% of our congregation at first, but after this, our churches would double in size. I hear some of this in the ECO, though not as crass. We’re holding them back, as they see it. They need to be free. They can’t do what they are passionate about because they’re tied up in this tiresome relationship that is wasting their time. Listen to Ortberg’s sermon. He’s getting older, he says,and doesn’t want to spend his time maintaining something which he no longer values. We’re their ball and chain, but if they could just trade in their old relationship for a new one that gave them back that old fire in the belly, then they could really serve God.

  3. Timothy – just a question – do you view federated churches, or churches who have long been a part of affinity groups like More Light or CovNet in the same way?

    I’m actually more concerned with the sort of back to the future affinities within the new ECOP. Having served as a pastor in a congregational church and in the denomination of congregational churches – the UCC – I’m reminded of the difficulties that arise when problem pastors are accountable to no one but their peers. Although the UCC has a brilliant and lovely theology of covenant, it is ever and always the autonomy of the congregation that rises above the covenant. I’ve returned to the PCUSA because I so missed the connectionalism and the polity.

    It seems like the theologians doing the writing for ECOP are sorting through things saying, this is Biblical and this is not. It’s the same sort of sorting, perhaps that you speak of. For example, GA is not good because it is not Biblical. But apparently a pension plan stays (although I’m at a loss to understand it as particularly Biblical.)

    Thanks for your thoughts. Peace –

    1. Anne, I have no problem per se with federated or union churches. There are many of them in the PCUSA who have arisen locally often out of a need to maximize resources. What we have here, however, is the creation of a whole denomination to which churches are invited to flee as they are able. This is very different than, say a Methodist and Presbyterian church conjoining because they can’t support two facilities in the same community. The Methodosts aren’t trying to turn the Presbyterians into Methodists or vice versa, which is what it appears ECO is intent on doing.

  4. Perhaps a number of people feel any implied covenant has already been broken by tolerating and even celebrating heresy (and please, what court of the church is going to discipline anyone for heresy when we don’t even have an understanding of “essentials” anyway), and giving self-affirming homosexuals positions of honor and influence even when the prohibition on gay ordination was still in place (Women of Faith Award to Jane Spahr in 1999 comes to mind)?

    1. John E–I don’t think that the “Heresy” charges hold any water. As an intentional interim minister, I have come in and out of my presbytery multiple times and nobody has made a peep about my beliefs, even though after 20 years they know what I think,which should not have been the case if I was a heretic. And your point about the courts sounds like blame shifting–we knew people weren’t going to do their duty to convict the heretic so we didn’t bother to do ours in filing the charge. In both instances, if there really was heresy present, the inaction on the part of people now pointing out the problem is an indictment of their behavior over the years. If things were that plainly heretical back in 1993 or whenever they realized heresy was in their midst, why are they still here, nearly 20 years later? Why have thy been doing mission with us heretics when scripture and the Constitution say to separate themselves from heretics? The truth is that there wasn’t any heresy. It is offensive to people, but it isn’t heresy. It never has been, which is why i was never challenged and none of the leaders of ECO have been filing disciplinary charges against their opponents People are only treating the matter like it is heretical, as a matter of expediency in the wake of losing last summer and thus finding themselves in need of a reason to bolt.

  5. Thank you for hitting the nail squarely on the head. That pastors and ruling elders who choose to renounce their ordination vows by sowing seeds of schism and then proceed to lead their congregations out of the PC(USA), especially over a non-doctrinal issue taken entirely out of its biblically cultural context, is to me a denial of him who is Lord of the conscience. If ordained leadership is so bent out of shape over the passage of Amendment A, then let them individually and personally seek communion with a denomination more in keeping with their persuasion. While I might disagree with their reasoning for doing so, I would deeply respect their personal integrity. But there is no integrity to a process of persuading whole congregations to abandon a denomination on the basis of false charges and sour grapes. As an intentional interim minister for the past 21 years, I have encountered a few messes that were created by unscrupulous ordained ministers and elders who were unfaithful to their ordination vows. As long as those of us remaining in the PC(USA) remain true to our ordination vows, our strength shall be renewed and the PC(USA) will become all the more faithful, as well as stronger.

    1. Non-doctrinal issue? Oh my goodness. Based on what is written here, you truly do not understand what is going on. I’m a little embarrassed for you as I read it. I can think of no better illustration of why the people associated with the Fellowship of Presbyterians and the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians are doing what they’re doing. If you think the matters of ordination and its related issues are non-doctrinal, then I seriously doubt your powers of deduction and you really don’t get it. I’m not saying you have to agree with the Fellowship-ECO folks; it’s obvious you don’t. But at least take the time to understand those of a different perspective, name the issues correctly, and stop conflating them into something of your own creation.

      1. Clay, I get what’s going here well enough. There are two levels of discourse here, one which is used behind the wall” (to use Brueggemann’s categories) and another “at the wall.”. Behind the wall is where the doctrinal talk takes place. It is used to build the courage of the schismatics to bolster the confidence of the leadership in the justice of their cause and to stir the anger of the congregation’s so that they will vote to leave. I’m watching this right now in my own presbytery, but my conversations with colleagues around the country confirm that it’s a widespread phenomena. But the conversation at the wall is very different. All the heresy and apostasy talk evaporates. We have several congregations exploring connecting with the ECO, but at our presbytery meeting today nary a word was heard from anyone about there being false doctrine loose in our presbytery. The reason for this, as you well know, is because “at the wall” if somebody is going to make such a claim, then they are duty bound to press the point, not by going back and whining to their session, but by filing a disciplinary charge with the clerk or by contesting the acceptance of clergy or the nomination of persons to be commissioners at General Assembly and such. I think I’m the most liberal member of my presbytery, but no one in my conservative presbytery questioned my election as a GA. Commissioner this summer. So my deductive powers are just fine. If this was an essential matter of the faith, rather than a peripheral issue that folks get riled out but is of limited import, the pro-ECO crowd would have been living very differently these past few decades. They would not have been working with us heretics. They would not allow us into presbyteries. They would oppose us at every turn using the process we all agreed to live under. It is the gap between their two discourses that is the tell. If what they say is true theologically about the state of the denomination, they would’ve left a long time ago. Indeed, if the vote of a dozen or so presbyteries had gone differently, we wouldn’t even be having this congregation because hardly any of them would be iterated in leaving, much less starting a new denomination. This is simply a matter of expediency and the quest to find a n adequate reason for what they intend to do.

      2. Clay, you needn’t feel any embarrassment for me. Having been ordained 50 years this coming August, and having served in both installed and interim pastorates, as well as an interim presbytery exec., I assure you that I understand quite well what is going on. Also, I take ordination and the vows I took quite seriously. For that reason, if I had felt unable to remain faithful to my vow to “submit to my brethren in the Lord” and to support the PC(USA) because of the previous ordination statement, I myself would have left. But I would not have, under any circumstance, attempted to lead a congregation out of the denomination. In my opinion, to have done so, would have been to encourage schism by tearing down the body of Christ rather than building it up. Again, I fault no one for following the Lord of his or her conscience.

  6. You’ve written a thoughtful statement. Here’s where I struggle. It’s hard to judge heresy, or even bad theology, in a denomination in which there there exists nothing but competing “perspectives”. The relativizing hermeneutic of suspicion reigns. Which perspective wins is based on power, not truth, however modestly defined. Ultimately those who have prevailed will require conformity to their perspective,either by means of marginalizing their opponents or polity mandate.

    My second concern has to do with expansive claims made for the PCUSA or any other denomination. It is no more the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church any more than any other part of the body of Christ. If a I announced tomorrow that I was more in accord with the Episcopal church and left, you probably would not accuse me of schism. If one of your members walks out the door tomorrow and joins the Methodist church will you accuse them of schism? If a congregation struggles to maintain its connection with a denomination that has departed from fundamental matters of theology, why is the congregation in schism? Who has in fact stepped further away from the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith?

    1. Michael, if you left for an Episcopal Church I wouldn’t accuse you of schism, but I would still urge you to stay using the same theological arguments that I would use in talking with a congregation. But even a conjugation leaving would not wreak the kind of havoc that this schism likely will. Ecclesiology and Christology are intertwined. We are Christ’s body and we sunder it at our peril. I’m not defending a denominational structure. We made a covenant to each other in which we confessed that together, we understood ourselves as Christ’s body–yes recognizing that other parts of the body are extant–but still saying to each other that we would commit ourselves to one another and to process which we believed was given by God. Out of that covenant came a myriad of other covenants, of employment, of insurance, of loans for churches and investments for pensions and endowments, of seminaries and universities and hospitals and hundreds of mission partners both here and abroad. We undertook ALL of that together and it is our duty to stay and honor what we have begun. I cannot conceive how anyone could look at the ecclesiolgy of the Reformed tradition, then look at how that ecclesiology has been lived out in concrete terms, and think that cutting and running from centuries of shared commitment to our covenanted mission would somehow be Christ-honoring. Yeah we need to change. But change doesn’t mean quitting. It means always being Reformed.

  7. Timothy, your ire is misdirected concerning the origin of the idea of union churches. It was PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons who first suggested this as a means of keeping churches from completely separating from the denomination, not the tall steeple pastors. His hope, I believe, was to keep lines of communication with the NRB (now named ECO) open in hopes, I believe, of one day healing the breach. Please don’t assume the worst of those with whom you disagree. And please, don’t use the term “schism” with regard to ECO, unless you are prepared to argue that the PCUSA is “the true church,” something which would exclude the vast majority of Christians around the world.

    1. Sorry Mateen, but in a connectional polity, starting a new denomination is the sine qua non of bad faith. I don’t believe i have misunderstood it at all, but if I have, the consequences of any misunderstanding are on the heads of the schismatics who have abandoned our covenant and their vows. We wouldn’t be having this problem if people were doing what they were supposed to and living under the process they agreed to. It is they who have assumed the worst of those with whom THEY disagree. You should not seek validation for their actions from the rest of us still trying to keep the covenant.

  8. “And in the PCUSA, we have always believed that the answer to this question is to be decided in the body of believers through a centuries-old process. That process has spoken, but rather than live with it, folks are threatening to cut and run.”


    Are you saying that the process didn’t speak in all the previous votes on ordination?

    1. Jake, the pro-ordination side took it on the chin for over thirty years (since 1978). Yet we didn’t quit. We kept working the process because we are committed to it. If the GA puts the issue back before the presbyteries and if in 2014 presbyteries vote to go back to the status quo ante, we still won’t leave, because we believe that the process is a gift from God and we have made a covenant to follow it, rather than quit when we don’t get our way. By contrast, the ECO people barely waited 33 DAYS, much less 33 years as we waited, before they were plotting an exit strategy and a new denomination. You can judge who is a fair-weather Presbyterian and who’s bot really easily in this situation. As I said in my original post, I’m so grateful for the hundreds of thousands of evangelical Presbyterians who aren’t going anywhere despite their deep grief at how things are going for their opinion on this matter. They are to be commended for their courage and fortitude in the keeping of their vows while others cut and run.

  9. Having just read something that calls the FoP and ECO as schism, I am happy to be able to sit and watch Joseph Fiennes’ performance in the 2003 film ‘Luther’ … and know that what is one man’s schism, is another man’s Reformation !!

  10. Perhaps we have a new opportunity for unity. Let’s be rid of the schismatics and pursue with new vigor a united church (on the model of Canada or Australia). Might the time be full for a new face of Protestantism in the U.S.? Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbys unite!

    1. Dan, I’m all for moving in that direction, but I don’t want to leave anybody behind, least of all my evangelical brothers and sisters.

  11. I’ve got two things working my mind over. Here’s the first.

    There are terms being thrown back and forth which need not only to be defined, but for those definitions to be held in common between those seeking to maintain covenant and those seeking to establish a new one. In particular, I’m thinking about “heresy,” “apostate,” and “essentials.”

    The lack of agreement even on what these words mean make conversation impossible.

    Seventy-five years ago the first Othodox Presbyterian Church was birthed from the congregation I currently pastor. As a relative newcomer to the area, I started asking why the split happened. The folks in my church thought it was about the ordination of women. The folks in their church said it was about a change in the Westminster. Even 3/4 of a century later we still don’t know what we were fighting about.

    Now we have the “behind the wall” and “at the wall” conversations using these three words. Those seeking to be dismissed use apostate, heresy and a lack of being able to articulate the essentials as wedges to justify breaking covenant. But we don’t agree on what rises to the level of apostasy, heresy, or essentials. As I listen to disaffected pastors and read their blogs, I can hear them making the argument that the very lack of clarity over what is heresy and what is apostasy underscores the need to be clear on what are the essentials of the Reformed faith.

    If there is going to be any meaningful dialogue, then we’d better find a commonly held working definition of these words and hold folks accountable who use them arbitrarily to support their own hermeneutic.

    Here’s the second thing. While you’ve been arguing covenant, I’ve been thinking about sacrament. I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA and have been actively folding more and more sacramental elements into each service of worship so that both Word and sacrament are in balance.

    Baptism is a sacrament of belonging, an extension of the covenantal practice of circumcision to welcome a person into a community of faith. It is a sacrament which joins us by our vows into a lifelong commitment to each other’s discipleship, through which we demonstrate how we belong to God and to one another.

    Communion is a sacrament of reconciliation. Those who are reconciled to God are called to reconcile with each other, to be ministers of reconciliation. I see that not merely as a categorical forgiveness for sin, but as forging a path toward a stronger, deeper, fuller relationship even with our enemies. That is what Christ did for us while we were still sinners.

    To me, the process to seek dismissal needs to be weighed not only on the scales measuring Biblical authority, covenant and ecclesiology, but also in the balance of baptism and communion, of belonging and reconciliation.

    On a personal note – I left the RCA to join the PC(USA) for many reasons. I grieved when the action became final, and I grieve it more, now. Only after breaking covenant and sacramental promise am I aware of how eagerness to effect change can stampede covenant. If not for the grace I find in the Preamble of the RCA’s BCO, and in my RCA brothers and sisters, I’d feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world for arguing for constancy in the PC(USA).

      1. Thanks. I do. What I’ve written here is partly a summary of Parts I and II of “A Sacramental View of Denominational Anxiety” at pastordavenpc.blogspot.com.

        And thank you for pointing out the irony of a new covenant order that encourages breaking covenant to get there. But as a friend once pointed out, schism is in the American church’s DNA. If we could’ve settled our differnces at home then pilgrims wouldn’t have needed to brave a transatlantic crossing. Ever since then we’ve nurtured an ethic that admires and rewards those who strike out on their own at the expense of those who stick around and work things out.

        1. David, I think that it’s consumerism that’s in our DNA and that the schism is the ecclesiastical representation of that basic urge. I remain persuaded by Max Weber’s proposal about the imp tint of Calvinism in colonial America and it’s long-term impact on the development of American thinking. Efficiency is the highest virtue and any product or institution that does not meet customer satisfaction deserves to be discarded for a better version. In that worldview, failure to adopt the most efficient option is sinful. Schism thus appears as self-evident, and is the preferred path historically when an impasse is reached. It’s the ecclesiastical equivalent of having to wait in line: if the wait goes on too long, we’ll have to take our business elsewhere.

  12. Timothy, your negative and judgmental tone and words, always assuming the very worst of those whom you differ clearly show me how much you value and desire to keep your “evangelical brothers and sisters” in Christ.

    1. John, you have this wrong way around. It is the schismatics who think the worst of ME who, you may have heard, have started a new denomination. As usual, it’s our fault that they are abandoning their covenants, and while they leave we’re supposed offer them every inducement to stay. We’ve been down this path before, and it doesn’t end well. The time for co-dependence is no more. The time to hold people accountable is upon us. Rather than excusing them, we, as my therapist puts it, have to certify the schismatics’ right to fail. this has nothing to do with their evangelical beliefs. It has everything to do with their behavior. You also have it all wrong about how I feel about evangelicals. My wife and I currently pastor a church of mostly evangelicals whose position on the ordination issue is different from ours and which is virtually identical to the theology of the ECO–except in ecclesiology. The evangelicals in our church aren’t going anywhere.

      1. Wow, what a witness to the church of Jesus Christ! Liberals claiming evangelicals are “breaking covenant” when the liberals have already broken the covenant and coerced the denomination to do the same by abandoning the true faith. It’s not a matter of different interpretations. It’s a matter of truth and falsehood.

        And then to have the liberals accusing the evangelicals of schism when schism has been the very 30 year work and goal of the liberals who believe this nonsense about homosexuality not somehow being declared unacceptable by God’s own Word…

        Really? I don’t think breaking a covenant that has already been broken and which is now foisted upon a structure containing persons, some of whom might actually be a part of the Body of Christ is really an issue.

        Those who hold fast to the Christ covenant and declare the Word of God to be just that are to be encouraged not castigated.

        1. Kamau, as I have said repeatedly on this thread, if in fact what those of us who have been doing in advocating for gay and lesbian ordination rises to the level you suggest, then why weren’t we driven from the church decades ago? The fact is that, in my twenty years in the PCUSA, during all of which I have advocated in the same fashion, nary a soul questioned my orthodoxy in any of the four presbyteries in which I served. If I was a covenant-breaker and schismatic, as you suggest, why didn’t someone name me as such? Your position might have credibility if that had been the case, but not a word of protest has ever attended any of my entries or exits from churches or presbyteries. People can’t work with you for that many years, knowing you believe as you do, and then when they lose a vote, turn on you and call you a heretic. The fact is that this is a second-order issue and always has been. That’s why no one ever moved against me. It’s only now, after losing a vote, that they want to gin it up into a first-order issue. And that just has no credibility to it. I’m the same guy I was before this vote as I am now.

  13. Timothy,

    In answer to your questions:

    >then why weren’t we driven from the church decades ago?

    1. Because some of us who know the truth wanted to show grace hoping to see repentance; and
    2. Because in the majority of cases, when charges were brought, a largely biased judicatory system and PJC’s, protected, ruled and governed based on Book of Order provisions rather than biblical truth or theological correctness.

    > in my twenty years in the PCUSA, during all of which I have advocated in the same fashion, nary a soul questioned my orthodoxy in any of the four presbyteries in which I served..

    This says no more about your orthodoxy than it does the legitimacy of my comments. Arguing from an absence of something accomplishes nothing. The fact that I have never been arrested for speeding doesn’t
    mean that I haven’t broken the law, perhaps even daily.

    > People can’t work with you for that many years, knowing you believe as you do, and then when they lose a vote, turn on you and call you a heretic.

    This is not at “us” or “them” war. The truth is the truth whether charges are brought or not, whether your heresy is tolerated or not, whether a vote goes one way or another. The fact that for years the PC(USA)’s “votes” seem to have clearly spoken God’s will on this matter effectively doesn’t mean that councils may not err and in this case they have.

    > It’s only now, after losing a vote, that they want to gin it up into a first-order issue. And that just has no credibility to it. I’m the same guy I was before this vote as I am now.

    As long as the truth was being upheld by the Presbyteries it wasn’t as crucial an issue. Now that the error is systemic it has become something of a first order issue.

    To label as “disgruntled” those who want to continue the clear witness of sexual chastity and fidelity that has governed this denomination since it’s inception is silly. It is those who want to destroy the clear teaching of scripture that are the schismatics. You’ve already left the fold.

    > I’m the same guy I was before this vote as I am now.

    I rest my case.

    1. That’s a very telling response, Kamau. First you say you didn’t file charges because you were showing grace. Where in the Book of Order or in scripture are you directed to show grace when you encounter heresy? I wasn’t aware that that was an option. Then you blame shift by saying that you didn’t think you’d get a fair hearing by a governing body. Again, where do you find in the Book of Order or the Scrioture the direction to root out heresy except in cases where it looks like you might lose, at which time you are free to drop it? Then you claim that because the problem was “systemic” that nothing could be done. Twenty years ago, the Presbyterian Panel found that only 10% of the denomination supported the ordination of gays and lesbians. It wasn’t “systemic” then. Even fifteen years ago, the Panel found that support was only at 33%. Again, why the failure to act? All of this is revisionist rationalization designed to excuse present bad behavior. You want to leave and lavking a proper reason, need a fanciful reconstruction of events in order to place the covenant-breaking in an acceptable light. But those of us who were there know better and are calling you on it If you knew something was wrong and you didn’t do anything about it, then it’s on your head for not doing your duty. The only way you can legitimately leave now is to say that since 1978 when this first came up, or whenever you became part of the denomination, you have been living inauthentically and in violation of both scripture and our polity in failing to use the available means to root out heresy.

      1. Or we trusted our leaders to deal with the issues of heresy at levels above the congregation as we dealt with them at the congregational level and below. Now, you have a situation where individual churches and their members feel betrayed by the denomination. They find themselves in a theological crisis where overnight their faith is inconsistent (incompatible) with the greater church, yet still consistent with the local church. If you think that all Presbyterian Churches have been lockstep and with the decisions made at the GA you are sorely mistaken. The schism has existed since before 1978 yet was tolerable (on both sides) because there WAS value in the covenant and the belief that righteousness would prevail as it has for hundreds of years. ECO is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been any many Presbyterian Churches that thumbed their nose at PCUSA for national decisions. Reformation is in our DNA.

  14. Timothy,

    You suggest that patience with heresy is not Biblical? What of 2 Peter 3:9:

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    Is not the Lord’s patience with us not a model for our interactions with others? Perhaps I am naieve to think in such simplistic terms.

    And by the way you should not assume that I am leaving the denomination. Likely I will not, but neither shall I label as “schismatics” those who in good conscience feel a need to withdrawl quietly.

  15. Well, I’ll only say that when I saw the title, I knew this would be a slanted article. Go ahead and defile your church, not mine.

  16. I am obviously late to read of these developments… Amazing position by the author to make such a fuss about these folks departing AFTER A 30YEAR BATTLE ROYALE!!! in which evil finally prevailed in the vote. Truly hysterical
    position my friend. Let me guess, you like the playful use of language in such mantras as “Pro-Choice”, etc. To allow such a lengthy session of discussion with all of the REPROBATES at the PCUSA only shows me that “they tried as long as hope remained…” When the vote for apostasy was complete, the end of the “relationship” was assured.

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