The Edmond Sun

December 4, 2012

Edmond church, national group agree to differ

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — An agreement has brought an Edmond church closer to a “gracious dismissal” from its denomination.

Sunday morning Amy Schulke, an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, informed the congregation that a settlement has been reached with its denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Schulke said on Jan. 27 church members will vote on a recommendation to leave the PCUSA and enter into a relationship with another Presbyterian denomination. Church staff have appeared to favor joining ECO, a recently formed and rapidly growing covenant order of evangelical Presbyterians.

Schulke said the date was chosen to give members time to reflect on their decision and to give the congregation time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas — Christ’s birth and the undying hope he brings to a broken world.

First Presbyterian Senior Pastor Mateen Elass said terms of the agreement would be publicized via a letter to be mailed to members. A thorny issue on the negotiating table was property. According to the PCUSA constitution, all property held by or for a congregation is “held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit” of the denomination.

In a letter sent to members in March, Elass stated the church’s years-long efforts had not helped curb the decades-long unbiblical trends pursued by national PCUSA leadership. Instead, he stated, recent PCUSA decisions left the impression that the slide into non-orthodox theological liberalism and practice had only accelerated.

On March 3, First Presbyterian leaders voted to recommend that as a congregation they seek dismissal from the Indian Nations Presbytery into another Presbyterian denomination. Teams from the church and presbytery have been regularly meeting to negotiate the terms of the dismissal.

Numerous complex issues are related to the action. First Presbyterian leaders reviewed reasons to stay in the denomination and reasons to leave. While most members appear to favor leaving, several members in favor of remaining in the PCUSA have voiced their opinions. Presbytery leaders have made themselves available during the process.

In a report on discussion items for First Presbyterian’s denominational task force, reason one leaders cited for wanting to leave is the PCUSA no longer clearly communicates why and how Jesus matters to a world that needs to know.

During the 2001 PCUSA General Assembly, a national-level meeting, a motion was made to declare “Jesus is the singular saving Lord,” the report stated. Before passage, it was modified to say “Jesus is unique.” First Presbyterian leaders cited other language from the denomination, which stated that the triune God redeems all people.

In the report, First Presbyterian leaders cited a survey which indicated that more than half of PCUSA pastors do not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation. They stated that many PCUSA leaders “have rejected the authority of the Bible or have adopted unorthodox interpretations of it.”

First Presbyterian leaders also cited language in an amendment adopted by denominational leadership in 2011 that does not identify scripture as God’s word, God-inspired or as an authoritative foundation for the church’s doctrine and life.

And local leaders cited concern that First Presbyterian’s witness to the gospel is diminished by continued membership in the PCUSA, denominational dysfunction, relaxed ordination standards, new PCUSA government that contains a strong hint of religious universalism, the negative impact of PCUSA actions on evangelism and changes in the PCUSA’s discipline process. | 341-2121, ext. 108