I just finished a lengthy post on the report of the PCUSA’s report on the recent unpleasantness between it and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It was a brilliant post that I worked on for three days and that WordPress then proceeded to lose. I have neither the time nor the inclination to re-write it, so let’s just go with this.
The heart of the “indictment” of the EPC is the charge of “interference.” Throughout the report there is the notion that the EPC, by receiving dissident PCUSA congregations that asked to transfer in, was interfering in an internal PCUSA matter. In the conclusion, the authors put it this way:
The task group would submit that the presenting cause for this struggle originates in an internal conflict within the PC(USA). On one side are ministers and members of the PC(USA) who believe that they cannot in good conscience stay within this denomination. On the other side are ministers and members of the PC(USA) who believe that unity of Christ’s body, made clear through the Constitution that binds us all together in a covenantal community, should be honored and preserved….
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in receiving congregations and ministers who were dissatisfied with the PC(USA), has now inserted itself into our own internal struggle. The creation of a transitional presbytery as a mechanism for receiving congregations is seen by the EPC as a means to prevent a large influx of PC(USA) congregations from changing the EPC’s culture. However, it has been seen by some in the PC(USA) as inappropriate interference in our internal conflict and a clear breach of ecumenical protocol.
Now, keep in mind that the authors admit, even if grudgingly, that there is no evidence that the EPC ever initiated contact with any congregation or pastor. We didn’t urge anyone to leave PCUSA; instead, we provided information about our denomination and its governance, theology, and mission to those who approached us and asked. We did not insert ourselves into anything; instead, we offered assistance to those who sought it because of problems they had with their own denomination. What’s more, the lack of any kind of specific process for dismissing a congregation from PCUSA means that every congregation that wanted to leave has been dealt with on an ad hoc basis, some with great grace and understanding, some with maliciousness and a scorched earth policy. I’ll come back to the transitional presbytery in a moment, but first I’ve got to note this, from the “history” section:
Dismissing congregations to a nongeographic, transitional presbytery of the EPC presented problems for the PC(USA) presbyteries, since PC(USA) polity does not allow dismissing a congregation to independence, nor to a nongeographic presbytery (see VI.3.d below).
A perusal of the PCUSA Book of Order will not reveal any prohibition on dismissing a church to a non-geographic presbytery, and in fact there is at least one non-geographic presbytery (Eastern Korean) in the PCUSA itself. As far as it goes, the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery could even be called geographic, in the sense that it covers the continental United States–PCUSA’s Atlantic Korean-American Presbytery is the same kind of thing, in that it covers a geographical region that is covered by other, smaller presbyteries in the Mid-Atlantic Synod.
This polity claim comes across as strictly a matter of convenience, since it throws up a roadblock to congregations seeking dismissal, and might have for some reason discouraged some who wanted to leave. But here’s the real point, and I make this based on this, under “Ecumenical Etiquette”:
The task group observed that normal ecumenical etiquette that dictates courtesies and behaviors between communions was not followed in the following ways. In addition to such violations of ecumenical courtesy that were observed “on the ground,” already noted above in IV.2.l. and IV.3.a., there was no conversation between the EPC and the PC(USA), by stated clerks or at the level of national leadership, around the creation of the “New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery.”
Talk about “interference in internal affairs”! Why exactly did the EPC have any obligation to talk to PCUSA leadership about the creation of the NWTP? Deciding how we were going to bring in a large number of congregations without it changing our denominational culture was our business, not Louisville’s. We didn’t go looking for those churches, they came to us, and when they did, it presented us with a problem. The NWTP was the way we chose to deal with it. For all the screeching about “interference in internal affairs,” it looks like Louisville thinks that it should get some kind of veto power into the way another WARC denomination orders its work. To which I say, when PCUSA lets us straighten out its theological problems (including enforcing discipline on clergy who wantonly flout the theological and ethical standards embodied in the Book of Order), we’ll let it have a hand in our polity.