On the Church and Society
March 16, 2007
The exodus by historic, orthodox churches from mainline Protestantism continues to pick up steam. That includes some unhappy churches within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
In early February, a group of congregations known as the New Wineskins Association of Churches voted unanimously to petition the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) to set up a transitional, non-geographic presbytery for churches looking to leave the PCUSA, as reported on Feb. 14 by the Presbyterian News Service.
The key mission of the New Wineskins Association is described as follows on their website: "What we have seen is a movement of God's Spirit across the world which is transcending denominational lines and drawing millions to meet Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the first time. New wine of fresh faith in Christ is being poured out from heaven. We want to be part of what God is doing. But here at home, mainline denominations struggle with theological confusion, ethical compromise and numerical decline. We envision a church, therefore, that is theologically clear and passionate because it is based on shared essential tenets of historic orthodox faith."
The EPC, as noted in a Feb. 20 report in the Courier-Journal of Kentucky, was formed in 1981 as a conservative reaction to the liberal trend among church bodies that later would come to form the PCUSA. There are about 200 EPC churches and 70,000 members across the nation.
The EPC has to vote on the request in its June meeting, and then the New Wineskins would have to approve a move in the association's October gathering. It is unclear how many New Wineskin churches will actually make the jump to the EPC. Among the potential obstacles are church property disputes.
But why the move now? The story echoes what's going on in other denominations. Last summer at the PCUSA General Assembly, measures were approved that would open the door to both ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the use of feminine language to describe the Holy Trinity. It is another case of abandoning Holy Scripture and traditional teachings.
In a January 17 statement, Wineskins coordinator Tom Edwards noted: "Presbyterian realignment is not going to look the same as Anglican realignment, Methodist renewal or Roman Catholic revival." That most certainly is the case. But as the Wineskins mission statement noted, there "is a movement of God's Spirit across the world which is transcending denominational lines and drawing millions to meet Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." It is the commitment to spreading the Good News and remaining true to Holy Scripture - while acknowledging our differences and working to mend those rifts - that drives and unites the reform movements across Christian denominations.
Christian churches fraying is not something to celebrate, but great encouragement can be found in churches and individual Christians that do their best to stay true to the historic orthodox faith; sound biblically based morality; and being theologically clear and passionate.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also features "Methodists, the Bush Library & Academic Freedom," "Pro-Abortion Catholics," "General Pace and Immoral Behavior," "Kids and a Bloody R-Rated Film," "Teenage Angst," and "Evangelical Credibility Being Lost?" To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.