Denominational News

Presbytery lets Mt. Lebanon church leave, with property
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Almost six months to the day after voting to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), Beverly Heights Church in Mt. Lebanon was granted its dismissal today by the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

The Presbytery’s 174-73 vote, with two abstentions, means Beverly Heights will move its 400-member congregation, along with its buildings and grounds, to the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

3) A Free and Unordered Worship Service

This is the third part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

3) A Free and Unordered Worship Service

While this critique is probably the weakest and most contingent on a church-by-church and locational motivations it is still the one I notice most when attending services at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

One of the hallmarks of Reformed Orthodoxy is the presentation during worship of a standard and ordered worship service. This critique along with the criticisms of the EPC’s views on the charismata arise primarily from personal experience with EPC Churches I have attended and/or had friends who attended them. I’ll deal more in depth with this critique in the next bullet point dealing with the passe nature of “Reformed” theology in the EPC.

Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

2) Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

This is the second part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

Now this critique certainly places me in a precarious theological position with my more evangelical colleagues. I find myself becoming more and more “Orthodox” in my Reformed theology and have come to be in full agreement with the early Church fathers: John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Origen (even if our Roman Catholic friends think he is a heretic), and Justin Martyr as well as the Princeton School of Theologians including Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen among others who claim that the miraculous works of the Spirit have ceased. In other words I believe that Scripture testifies that the works of the Spirit including prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the Apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. I am certainly not saying that miraculous events cannot happen (I would never handcuff the Sovereignty of the Father) but that these gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer manifest themselves outside of the Apostolic Age (cf: Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor 13:8-10; Hebr. 2:3-4; Gal 1:8; Rev. 22:19).

In the Reformed confessions (especially Westminster since it is the only Confession of the EPC) there is not to be found one mention of the continuation of the Spiritual gifts listed above. The confessions fail at one spot to give any credence to the idea that the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 for example are to be continued to this day. In fact when mentioning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church neither the Scots, the Second Helvetic, Heidelberg, or Westminster mention any of the aforementioned gifts to be normative or even available to the believer.

The EPC’s official position seems to be seeking some type of middle ground between the Orthodox Reformed view laid out above and those of Pentecostals and Charismatics. The EPC says:

Some would require that Christians manifest a particular gift, such as speaking in tongues, as evidence of a deeper work of the Spirit within. Others would have us believe such a gift is no longer available or acceptable. As a Reformed denomination, we adhere strongly to our belief in the sovereignty of God, a belief that does not allow us either to require a certain gift or to restrict the Spirit in how He will work. Rather, we call upon all Christians to open their lives unto God’s Spirit to fill, empower, and “gift” as He sees fit.

While the EPC claims to not “require the manifestation of a particular gift” the paragraph prior to the quote above seems to do just that when it says, “Regardless of what term is used, we recognize this deepening work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as being both valid and necessary, producing evidences of His presence in the process.” The official position lists as “examples of these gifts” the gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy (as spoken in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4.) which the Reformed and Ante-Nicene flatly deny as being works outside the Apostolic tradition.

This tolerance of Charismatic gifts in light of Scripture and the Reformed confessional witness I believe is outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy. Though the EPC’s claim to be “reformed” will be examined in another article I can honestly say the broadness of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s views on the Charismatic gifts is out-of-step with Westminster and the rest of the Reformed faith.

See here for the full text of the EPC’s position paper on the Charismata

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

This is the first part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

One of the main issues driving congregations to seek dismissal from the PC(U.S.A.) is that they conclude that the PUP Report will move the denial of GLBT ordination (and other controversial issues which may or may not crop up) from a mandatory church-wide ordinance to a rule that can be “scrupled” at the presbytery level. Allowing presumably for Presbyteries to have “local option” on GLBT ordination. I have included an example of the critique of Recommendation #5 and a defense of Recommendation #5. (These links are not necessarily the only critiques/defenses but to give one who does not understand the arguments a basic primer.)

The main fear, that I feel is justified, is that Presbyteries that favor GLBT ordination will have candidates for ministry effectively “scruple” G-6.0106b and therefore not have them subject to the code of conduct that the Church as a whole has voted to be required of those seeking ordination and those who are currently ordained. Effectively Recommendation #5 enables the personal conduct of Pastors and other ordained persons to be at the discretion of the ordaining body, which is the Presbytery in the case of Ministers of the Word and sacrament. While this was true before the PUP Report, according to then and current Church law, what this particular ruling means is that an individual now has the power to deny any national ordinance over and against anything that they find “binds their conscience”, thereby giving the individual power over the collective wisdom of the Book of Order when it comes to ordination. This power goes against the basic premise of the Presbyterian form of government that seeks unity in Doctrine and matters of discipline. I believe we fail to be a connectional body at all if we make things as pivotal as ministerial ordination a local option or a “non-essential”.

What does this all have to do with the PC(USA) and the EPC? Simply the EPC’s Book of Order claims that Women’s ordination is to be a “non-essential” belief and thus is left up to individual Presbyteries as to whether or not to ordain women, effectively making women’s ordination a “local option”. The major problem I see is that the churches that are seeking dismissal nearly always cite the aforementioned encroaching “local option” as being one of their main reasons for asking to be excused from their current denominational allegiance. So the question begs to be asked, “If you hold ministerial ordination to be an essential that requires church-wide subscription while in the PC(USA) why do you seek dismissal to a denomination that sees ordination to be a non-essential?”

See here for the EPC’s official statement on Women’s Ordination.

5 Reasons Why:

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church Is Not For Me…
And Should Not Be For You

I attended the now defunct Faith Presbyterian Church, EPC in Fredericksburg, VA from April 1999 to July 2001. Now looking back at that experience and through research I have done for friends interested in the EPC I am of the opinion that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is not a viable destination for those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are truly looking for an Orthodox and Reformed Presbyterian Denomination. Below are listed 5 reasons (of which there may or may not be more) why I believe this to be so. By this time next week you will have a fully annotated and detailed critique of each point I have listed. This listing is not exhaustive and is open to instruction, clarification, and disagreement. However, I do hold that the items presented below are an adequate and truthful representation of the positions, polity, and practice of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I hold with good conscious that my critiques are accurate both in spirit and in letter. It is not the purpose of this analysis to denigrate or cast into doubt the witness of the EPC but to say that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in its current form does not fully represent Reformed and Presbyterian orthodoxy as exemplified in the confessions, practices, and theology of Reformed Orthodoxy.

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

2) Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

3) A Free and Unordered Worship Service

4) A Disordered and “Open” Interpretation of Reformed Theology

5) Presbyterian Polity in Name Only