Sunday, February 11, 2007
More from the Presby News Service
February 9, 2007
Evangelical Presbyterian Church woos PC(USA) congregations seeking to leave
EPC Assembly will consider creating ‘New Wineskins Presbytery’
by Toya Richards Hill
ORLANDO, FL — The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) has extended an invitation, albeit a preliminary one pending the approval of its General Assembly, to create a new presbytery within its fold for the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC), a group of dissident Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations.
“The Holy Spirit is drawing us toward you,” said EPC Moderator Paul Heidebrecht. “We are truly impressed by the mission-driven polity” of the NWAC.
Heidebrecht discussed plans to create a non-geographic presbytery named after the New Wineskins during the opening day of the NWAC winter convocation, taking place Feb.8-9 at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, FL.
Organizers of the meeting said representatives from 130 of 151 New Wineskins-endorsing churches were represented at the meeting, which is expected to yield a more formal strategy and way out for PC(USA) congregations that wish to leave the denomination.
Thursday’s opening set the tone for the delegates meeting scheduled for the evening of Friday, Feb. 9, and provided a glimpse into the recommendations expected from a nine-member NWAC strategy team charged with outlining a way forward.
Much of the displeasure voiced by New Wineskins congregations centers around a belief that the PC(USA) has become consumed with institutional preservation and lost sight of doctrinal integrity.
The New Wineskins point to the actions by the 217th General Assembly (GA) regarding the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP) of the Church, and the paper “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing” as examples of ways the denomination has gone wrong.
At issue regarding the PUP report is the GA’s approval of an “authoritative interpretation” of the church’s Constitution that maintains current ordination standards for church officers, but gives ordaining bodies greater leeway in applying those standards to individual candidates for ordination.
At the heart of the matter is the ordination of homosexuals, an issue that has become a lightening rod for the New Wineskins and other PC(USA) renewal groups.
Heidebrecht told the NWAC that its proposal regarding a New Wineskins presbytery, which would be “transitional” for a period of five years, would be presented to its General Assembly when it meets in June.
Currently the EPC is comprised of some 75,000 members in 182 churches within 8 presbyteries in the United States, according to information on its Web site.
The EPC also intends to propose to its assembly that it allow churches that choose not to fall within the New Wineskins presbytery to also come into the EPA as transitional members for a period of five years, said EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah.
“We believe Christ is working and moving in you like He is working and moving in us,” he told the group.
As proof of the commonalities between the two bodies, NWAC co-moderator Gerrit Dawson outlined mutual essential tenets of the NWAC and the EPC. Under headers that included “The Triune God Makes Himself Known,” “The Bible,” “The Person and Work of Jesus,” “Our Need,” “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” “The Church,” “Our Mission,” and “Come Lord Jesus,” Dawson reviewed where each entity stands related to the specific areas.
He called the essential tenets a “baseline,” pointing out that “what we believe is clear and specific and beautiful.
“This, I believe, is going to build the church,” Dawson said.
A good deal of the talk on Thursday centered on “realigning” the Presbyterian Church, and at the end of the day NWAC co-moderator Dean Weaver introduced “two faithful options” for displeased PC(USA) congregations, stressing that both include “being a missional congregation right where God has placed you.”
He promised more details on the options in the strategy team report, but said one way would involve churches wishing to remain in the PC(USA) yet be under the fold of the New Wineskins initiative, while the other option involves congregations that want to leave altogether falling under the jurisdiction of the New Wineskins/EPC.
“What excites me is what we are moving towards,” Weaver said, predicting this could be the first of a series of realignments bringing streams of Reformed Evangelical Presbyterian back together.
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