Sensing fresh momentum, conservative leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) say they want renewal, not revolution.
More than 800 laity, pastors, deacons, and elders gathered in late February in Atlanta for the first National Celebration of Confessing Churches. Participating churches affirm that Christ is the only way of salvation, that the Bible is infallible in its teachings, and that sexual relations are exclusively for marriage.
More than 1,200 of the denomination's 11,000 congregations have adopted such declarations and become part of a loosely knit Confessing Church Movement.
"The walls of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have fallen down," said Paul Roberts, whose Summit Presbyterian Church in Butler, Pennsylvania, started the movement in March 2001. "What we need is a Presbyterian Church Habitat [for Humanity] project. Let's not fight. Let's not argue. Let's just rebuild the church Jesus' way."
Conservatives count as a major victory the vote by a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries to defeat Amendment A. That measure would have removed the "fidelity and chastity" rule for church leaders (CT, April 1, p. 25).
"Our challenge now is to begin the process of reconciliation," said a joint post-vote statement by Jack Rogers, General Assembly moderator, and Clifton Kirkpatrick, the assembly's stated clerk.
Jane Spahr, a prominent advocate of gay ordination, still wants the constitution changed. "The church's exclusionary policy betrays Christ's welcome," Spahr said. "Because of this inhospitable stand, the church risks becoming totally irrelevant."
More battles are brewing. A judicial commission of the Central Florida Presbytery ruled that the First Presbyterian Church, Sebastian, may not amend confessional statements or require theological standards of church officers beyond their ordination vows. The leaders of the 240-member church had adopted a conservative confessional statement. The court ordered the congregation's leaders to rescind the confession. The church is expected to appeal.
The movement "doesn't really know where it's going," said Larry Lewis, an elder at Madeira-Silverwood Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. "That will depend on God's direction."
Roberta Hestenes, international minister for World Vision, told Christianity Today that "schism is not an inevitable result, but we are in a time of ferment and reshaping."
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In an August 11, 1997, Christianity Today article, James Edwards compared today's struggles within the PCUSA to that in the German church in the 1930s —which launched the original "Confessing Church" at Barmen.
The Confessing Church Movement site offers links to news stories, commentary pieces, and other resources.
Other Christianity Today articles on tensions within the Presbyterian Church (USA) include:
Presbyterians Reaffirm Fidelity, Chastity RuleConservatives gain last needed vote to defeat Amendment A. (March 1, 2002)
Talk of Presbyterian Split GrowsHomosexual ordination, lordship of Christ are ongoing issues for conservatives. (Nov. 21, 2001)
Presbyterians Void Ban on Gay ClergyPresbyteries will vote on national meeting's action during the next year. (July 23, 2001)
Presbyterians Vote Down Ban on Same-Sex UnionsOpponents say vague wording led to defeat. (March 29, 2001)
Editorial: Walking in the TruthWinning arguments at church conventions is not enough without compassion for homosexuals. (Oct. 30, 2000)
Presbyterians Propose Ban on Same-Sex CeremoniesChange to church constitution, which passes by only 17 votes, now goes to presbyteries. (July 5, 2000)
Presbyterians urged to allow liberals to leave over homosexual ordinationThe general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be asked to consider a series of resolutions declaring that "irreconcilable" differences exist over the ordination of gay clergy. (Feb. 28, 2000)
Presbyterians Support Same-Sex UnionsNortheast Synod rules 8-2 in favor of continuing church's "holy union" ceremonies (Jan. 10, 2000)
Fidelity Clause RetainedHomosexual ordination under study until 2001. (Aug. 9, 1999)
Leaders Retain 'Chastity' Vow (May 18, 1998)
Assembly Favors 'Integrity' Not 'Chastity' for Leaders (Aug. 11, 1997)
Presbyterians Endorse Fidelity, Chastity for Ordained Clergy (Apr. 28, 1997)
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