First Presbyterian-Houston to Vote Again on PCUSA Dismissal

First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas will vote for a second time on seeking dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Nov. 1.

If the motion – “that First Presbyterian Church of Houston shall request dismissal from the PCUSA and affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians” – is approved by a majority of the congregation, the session will ask the Presbytery of New Covenant to dismiss it at its Nov. 19th meeting.

The congregation’s first vote to leave the denomination in February of 2014 failed — by 31 votes — to meet the required supermajority approval needed for dismissal.

First-Houston remained in the PCUSA, but according to an Oct. 13 letter sent to church members, “in the minds of the significant majority of those voting, the vote left us in the worst possible position: nearly two-thirds of our church wanting to leave the PCUSA but being prevented from doing so by an inability to comply with a PCUSA-mandated process. That process, which caused so much divisiveness within our congregation three years ago, was later determined by the PCUSA to violate its own constitution and has since been abandoned.”

While current PCUSA policy states that the church session has the “exclusive authority” to request dismissal from the PCUSA, the session at First-Houston is seeking input from church membership.

According to the session’s letter, before the congregational vote is held:

  • A time for prayer and worship has been scheduled for tomorrow, Oct. 19, and Oct. 26;
  • An online survey is being conducted asking for input on the dismissal issue and other issues. The survey will also be available at the church for those without Internet access on Oct. 23. Results of the survey will be available Oct. 27.
  • A Q&A will be held Oct. 23 with representatives of ECO;
  • And resources from the 2012-2014 discernment process have been made available on the church web site.

The letter also included a summary of the “reasons why we believe that the denominational affiliation issue should be addressed now.” They include:

  • “The current direction of the PCUSA, particularly its theological drift and its focus on political activism and legislative and lobbying efforts at the expense of evangelism and mission work, is fundamentally out of sync with FPC’s Mission Statement and the objectives of Vision 2020.
  • “The relationship of FPC’s session and current pastors (and presumably future pastors) with the PCUSA is often unproductive, unhealthy and highly politicized. The session devotes considerable time and attention to issues created by positions taken by the PCUSA and working to avoid criticism of FPC and its pastors by the PCUSA. For the last five years, denominational issues have often dominated session agendas.
  • “The dysfunctional relationship of evangelical pastors with the denomination, and the potential of discipline by the PCUSA against those pastors who embrace views contrary to those of the PCUSA, create an atmosphere of anxiety and conflict that is counterproductive to the effective conduct of ministry. Moreover, under PCUSA polity, presbytery plays a significant role in the selection of ordained pastors by FPC, and there is considerable concern as to whether FPC will be able to call pastors in the future who embrace the orthodox view of theology that is affirmed by FPC’s Statement of Faith.
  • “An ongoing affiliation with the PCUSA challenges FPC’s ability to live into the ministry and mission focus of Vision 2020, particularly in the area of church planting.
  • “The continued overhang of an unresolved denominational issue is confusing to the congregation — particularly new members — and promotes an atmosphere of uncertainty within the membership regarding the direction of FPC.”

Property will not be an issue during the vote. First-Houston has clear title to its property after reaching a settlement agreement with New Covenant Presbytery in May, 2016. The church agreed to pay the presbytery $1 million as part of an agreement to end two years of civil litigation after the church filed a civil lawsuit in 2014 seeking to clear the title of its property from claims by the denomination that it holds a trust interest in FPC’s property.

The $1 million payment includes payments of $700,000 in semi-annual installments of $175,000. Also, the church will make a $300,000 mission payment — four quarterly payments of $15,000 for five years — to a mission partner chosen by FPC Houston in consultation with the presbytery.

According the PCUSA statistics, First-Houston has 3,132 members.

For more information, visit First-Houston’s denomination affiliation page on its web site.

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Judge to Decide Who Pays in Peters Creek Church Dispute

By Suzanne Elliott, The Observer-Reporter (Pa.)

It will be up to a Washington County judge to decide who is going to pay in the ongoing financial dispute between Peters Creek Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Washington Presbytery of Pennsylvania.

The church formed in 2008, when the majority of the congregation of Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church voted to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) in favor of the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In recent years, Presbyterian churches across the United States have been leaving the PCUSA, the country’s largest Presbyterian denomination, mostly because of its shift to support of gay ordination and marriage.

The two congregations – those who left for the new church and those who remained – engaged in a lengthy legal battle over the church property that ended in December 2014 when a Washington County judge ruled that the minority group of members who did not depart for the evangelical church should retain ownership. That did not, however, resolve all the financial issues.

In a hearing Wednesday in Washington County Court before Senior Judge William Nalitz, attorney Stephen Marriner, representing the Washington Presbytery, had Lindsay Aaron, a Washington certified public accountant, examine eight years’ worth of the evangelical church’s financial records and point out more than 20 purported accounting errors.

“This accounting is the worst accounting I have ever seen in my career,” Marriner said during the two-hour-plus hearing.

Peters Creek Evangelical claims the Washington Presbytery owes it $374,525 dating to 2007, an amount the Washington Presbytery disputes.

In its complaint, Peters Creek Evangelical acknowledges it occupied the Brookwood Road church property from November 2007 through its last service at the site on April 26, 2015. It says it paid all costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the property, and is entitled to reimbursement of $573,360, minus a $2,000 monthly rent, for a total of $374,525.


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Interfaith Ignorance in Excelsis

By Mateen Elass, on his personal blog.

Due to ongoing reverberations from the June 2016 PCUSA General Assembly where a “Muslim partner” led the gathered Presbyterians in a prayer to Allah seeking their conversion to Islam, newly appointed Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, Jr. has published a defense of the denomination’s position on interfaith relations, particularly with Islam.

Entitled “Remembering a Biblical Narrative That Shapes Our Interfaith Commitments: Building Bridges Through Interfaith Work“, this 1400 word document seeks to justify the PCUSA approach of linking together arm in arm with non-Christian (indeed anti-Christian) religions and marching buoyantly into a utopian future where all is love and beliefs don’t matter.

Nelson begins by greeting readers “…in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But that hopeful start is lost in all that follows. We are led by the title to hope that Nelson will give us a biblical narrative showing how to navigate the minefields of interfaith relations. Instead, we are told to ignore beliefs that rightly separate us and lift instead a common “ethic of love.”

The only biblical text Nelson cites in defense of his view is one he has to misquote in order to justify his stance. In Mark 9:38-41, Jesus’ disciples report to him they had come across a man not of their group who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They had ordered him to stop since he was not of the twelve chosen by Jesus. When Jesus hears this, he upbraids them, saying, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,  for whoever is not against us is for us.” Nelson is keen to show that the key for Jesus is commonality of purpose, not being part of his immediate group. Apparently for Nelson all interfaith groups seemingly have the same purpose, and so are acceptable to Jesus, and should be acceptable to us. Though the biblical text makes clear that the unknown man in question is doing ministry in Jesus’ name, and that Jesus’ rationale for not prohibiting him is that “no one doing ministry in my name can in the next moment badmouth me…,” Nelson incredibly twists this text in order to baptize interfaith cooperation:

“Jesus acknowledges the commonality of purpose between groups of religious leaders other than our own. When the disciples of Jesus reported to him that there were others casting out demons in another name, he responded, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:39–41).” [Emphases mine.]

The problem is, this man is acting in the name and under the authority of Jesus, not from some competing religious stance. Jesus affirms his ministry because it is being done in his name, not in the name of some other religious authority. To use this text for support of interfaith relations, particularly with regard to Islam, a religion that denies the gospel significance of the name of Jesus, is to abuse Scripture in pursuit of a personal agenda.


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Sarmiento Joins The Outreach Foundation Staff

Juan Sarmiento

Juan Sarmiento

Juan Sarmiento has been named Associate Director for Mission of The Outreach Foundation. He will officially begin his duties on November 1.

Since 1979, The Outreach Foundation has connected congregations and people in the United States with church partners around the world in Christ-centered evangelistic mission. Today, Outreach focuses on Presbyterian partners in places in the world where the church is growing and where it is facing opposition.

Sarmiento will join the Outreach team that focuses on building mission relationships that help global partners around the world train leaders, start new congregations, expand their outreach programs, and strengthen their ministries of compassion.

Rob Weingartner, Executive Director of The Outreach Foundation, observes, “Juan’s love for the Lord and commitment to evangelism are strong and clear. He is thoughtful and articulate, evangelical and Reformed, and will bring to Outreach a winsome ability to work across boundaries and bring people together in creative ways to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed.”

For the past two years, Sarmiento has worked as Evangelism Catalyst for Presbyterian World Mission. Prior to that, for six years, Sarmiento worked as director and chairman of the board for PM International, a mission agency that sends Latin Americans to serve in Muslim-majority contexts.

An ordained minister member of the Presbytery of San Fernando (CA), he served as a member of the Evangelism and Church Growth committee and moderator of the presbytery. He has served as a leader for English-, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking congregations. Juan and his wife, Maricela, have a son, Jonathan.

Born in Venezuela, Sarmiento is a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary and has done doctoral studies at Columbia and Louisville seminaries as well as advanced studies in linguistics at California State University-Los Angeles and Islamic studies at the Fuller School of Intercultural Studies.

outreach-foundationThe Outreach Foundation engages Presbyterians and global partners in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Because our ministry is Kingdom work, not denominational work, we work with PCUSA, EPC, ECO, Fellowship Community congregations and others. We help congregations build long-term partnerships with the global church that are mutually transformational. Every person, project and partnership we support is directly involved in sharing the Gospel in word and deed.

Our work depends entirely upon the involvement and financial support of mission minded individuals, congregations and organizations. We receive gifts in our office and disburse them directly to partners around the world. Established in 1979, The Outreach Foundation is independently governed by Board of Trustees, all of whom are pastors or officers in their respective congregations.

For additional information, contact Outreach at 615/778-8881 or info@theoutreachfoundation.org, or visit the web site at www.thoutreachfoundation.org
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ECO Reaches Milestone of 300th Member Church After Break From PCUSA

By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post.

ECOA conservative Presbyterian denomination formed in response to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality has reached the milestone of 300 member congregations.

“We are blessed to have each and every church and church member in our ECO family. As we grow, it is our prayer that we continue to be a movement that builds flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians announced on Tuesday.

The congregations listed as the latest ECO members include: Tacoma Central Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington; Lenoir Presbyterian Church of Lenoir, North Carolina; Waldensian Presbyterian Church of Monett, Missouri; First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, California; Calvary Presbyterian Church of Enfield, Connecticut; and First Presbyterian Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Rachel Stahle, pastor at FPC Towanda, told The Christian Post that her congregation voted 74-12 in favor of leaving PCUSA back in June and were officially dismissed from the Mainline denomination earlier this month.
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Meetings This Month on Athens Church’s Move to Leave Mainstream Presbyterians

By Lee Shearer, Online Athens. (Georgia)

central-pc-athens-gaAfter a months-long quiet period, an Athens church’s move to secede from its denomination could be headed toward resolution.

An administrative committee of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery scheduled two meetings this month with the congregation of Central Presbyterian Church, whose congregation earlier this year voted to leave the country’s mainstream Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At the first meeting on Thursday, those who attended heard a presentation on the work of the denomination, followed by a survey which included the question of remaining with the PCUSA denomination or affiliating with the more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, or ECO.

“The survey is non-binding and is meant to give the Administrative Commission a sense of the membership concerning the question of leaving the PCUSA denomination,” according to a notice on the Central Presbyterian website.


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Either God Is Omnipotent, Sovereign and Eternal, or God Is Not God

Do you find it curious that the media considers it news when a pastor — who openly serves the LGBT community and openly attends LGBT national events — makes his “coming out” in favor of same-sex marriage the subject of a Sunday sermon?

While the article in a local paper may have local significance, the content of the sermon has eternal implications.

“I have concluded, after exhaustive biblical study and theological reflection, that the Bible does condemn promiscuity of all stripes, and rape in all forms, but knows nothing of the kind of long-term loving relationships LGBT people are living. I therefore support marriage for all, with the terms and conditions of marriage being applicable for all marriages.” – Rev. Richard Gantenbein, in August 14, 2016 sermon, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Sonoma, Calif.

Either God is omnipotent, sovereign and eternal, or God is not God.

The issue is not same-sex marriage.

The issue is not the propriety or impropriety of sex of any variety.

The issue is whether or not we receive the Scriptures as the very Word of God.

If we say that the Bible “knows nothing of the kind of long-term loving relationships LGBT people are living,” we are either saying that God knows nothing of such relationships; that God intentionally included confusion about the issue throughout the Old and New Testaments; or, that the Bible is not the Word of God.  Let’s take those in order.

Option 1: God knows nothing of “the kind of long-term loving relationships LGBT people are living.” If so, then God is not God in that God is not omnipotent. And, if God knows nothing of these relationships then what is a pastor or church doing when they bless such relationships? How can could God’s representatives in the world be actively blessing something that they admit God does not even know?  Clearly, those who claim that the Bible doesn’t know about the kinds of LGBT relationships that exist today are saying something other than God doesn’t know about it.

Option 2: God knew and God knows about “the kind of long-term loving relationships LGBT people are living” but God put misleading and contradictory information in the Bible for some purpose known only to God.  You cannot get around the fact that the Bible says what it says about gender identity, homosexual acts and bisexual behavior. Even the pastor at the center of this article admits as much:  

“People say to me, ‘Everybody knows what the Bible says about this,’ and yeah, I know what the Bible says,” Gantenbein remarks. “But I think what’s being talked about in the Bible is not Ron and Dan, or Mike and Brian. I think the Bible’s talking about promiscuity. I think it’s talking about sex for the sake of sex, outside of a covenant relationship. When I get to Heaven, if I find out that I read the scripture wrong, well, I’d rather risk that, than risk being on the side of those who stand against being loving and accepting…”

The pastor is making a choice that includes the active suppression of what the Bible clearly says.  So, if the Bible says what it says and yet means something different than what it says, then God is a God who cannot be trusted. That doesn’t seem like a good place to land.

Option 3: The Bible isn’t really the Word of God. You don’t have to believe what the Bible says if the Bible is merely the words of men.

Pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA) — of which Rev. Gantenbein is a member — are taught this in the denomination’s Confession of 1967 which says in part: “The Scriptures … are nevertheless the words of men.”¹  Having undermined the foundations of the authority of the Scriptures as God’s Word, it is easy to set oneself up as an authority over what the Bible says.

There are errors in the article not least of which is the statement that “Gantenbein’s view on same-sex marriage is now shared by a majority of American Presbyterian congregations.”

While post-Obergefell research from Pew says that 64 percent of white mainline Protestants now approve same sex marriage, a 2012 Presbyterian Panel survey of the PCUSA found that “around one-half of members (51 percent) and ruling elders (48 percent) oppose same-sex marriage, while more than one in three are in favor (34 percent; 38 percent); the rest are not sure.”  

Furthermore, Gantenbein’s view is anathema in every expression of Presbyterianism except for the PCUSA. So, Presbyterians in the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and on and on, do not share Gantenbein’s view but hold instead to the 2,000 year teaching of the Church on the subject.
1. See page 291 of the PCUSA’s Book of Order, paragraph 9.29.




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Flames Shoot Out Door, Roof of Historic Philadelphia Church

Editor’s Note: Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

By Dan Stamm, NBC10.com.


Screen grab from the MBC10’s video of the fire. Watch the video here.

Philadelphia firefighters battled flames shooting through the front door and roof at a four-alarm Philadelphia church fire Monday morning.

Flames broke out around 9 a.m. in the basement of century-old Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church along Lansdowne Avenue near N 65th Street in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia and quickly engulfed the stone building.

“Church fires are notoriously difficult to fight the fire, they have a lot of void spaces and fire can travel,” said scene commander Robert Corrigan.

Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the church, according to Philadelphia firefighters. SkyForce10 hovered overhead, showing flames shooting out of the building as the fire quickly spread to three alarms and smoke could be seen for miles around.


Related article: 4-alarm fire at Overbrook church finally under control


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Does Theology Still Matter?

By Richard Burnett, Theology Matters.

Does theology still matter? It may seem like an odd question to ask in a journal that has asserted for more than two decades with the simple proposition of its title that it does. Yet asserting that theology matters does not make it so. And even if it once mattered does not mean it still matters.

Given all that has happened in the last two decades in the ecclesial context from which this journal was born, the Presbyterian Church (USA), it remains a question whether theology still matters. Has theology really mattered in the major debates of our times within the church let alone our society? Has it mattered in the longstanding debates over human sexuality or the sanctity of human life or in the less controversial issues of massive restructuring and polity revisions within the PCUSA and its Book of Order? Or have all these issues been decided more or less on the basis of prevailing political and ideological convictions or by current social convention or pragmatic considerations?

Indeed, one might wonder if theology matters less today than when this journal was founded shortly after the so-called “ReImagining God” conference of June 1993.

Theology, at least as many of us have understood it, has not seemed to matter much in the great church-dividing issues over ordination standards and the definition of marriage. That one PCUSA General Assembly after another in recent years has chosen to ignore the teachings of The Book of Confessions, but also to act contrary to them and, thereby, its own Constitution, suggests that many commissioners have not cared much about the PCUSA’s official theological statements.¹ Nor do many seem to care much about the overwhelming theological consensus of the global church with respect to these issues. On the contrary, advocates of recent changes in ordination standards and the definition of marriage have long dismissed the global church’s consensus on these issues.

With reference to African Christians, moderator of the 215th General Assembly, Susan Andrews, said in 2004: “They are kind of in their adolescence/young-adult stage of moving out into their own independence, yet still figuring out how to be in relationship with us as their parent church.”² Such attitudes reflect little regard for ecumenical unity or for being “connectional” in any sense other than being compliant with their views. Last month the 2016 General Assembly substituted overtures calling on all to “apologize” for past opposition to these changes, and passed another motion calling us to “deeply regret” how such opposition has made others “feel.”

This is not the first time a group from within the Christian tradition has decided to go against their Christian forebears. Nor, if they were right, would it be the first time Christian forebears had been wrong. But the shores of history are piled high with the whitewashed bones of groups of well-intended and often quite pious people who thought they knew so much better not only than their faithful Christian forebears but also the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments about all sorts of things.


  1. James C. Goodloe IV, “John Calvin on the Unity and Truthfulness of the Church,” Theology Matters 22/1 (Spring 2016), 1–10.
  2. Cited in John Azumah, “Through African Eyes,” First Things (October 2015), 45. Eva Stimson, “Let’s Talk: An interview with the General Assembly moderator,” Presbyterians Today (May 2004) extended website interview.
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When You Think Church Renewal Efforts Aren’t Helping …

Sometimes you just can’t keep a good story to yourself. And this story happens to be a true story about discovering Church renewal efforts are making a difference in unexpected places.

By Chelsen Vicari, Juicy Ecumenism.

On Sunday I invited a young minister of the local Presbyterian Church (USA) and his wife over for supper at Eric’s and my house. The minister’s sweet wife and I developed a little friendship while attending the nearby gym. After a few coffee conversations, I knew they pastored a PCUSA congregation in our small town. I knew the wife was faithful on the topic of marriage and sanctity of life. But I also knew her husband was a 27 year-old PCUSA minister who graduated from a liberal Presbyterian seminary not long ago. I couldn’t help but speculate about his theology.

Before the couple arrived, I told my husband that perhaps, just this once, we should avoid the topics of politics and religion at the table. Between PCUSA and Southern Baptists and Trump and Clinton, who knew where the conversation might lead? Besides, my purpose for hosting the dinner was to show hospitality to my newfound friend and her husband, not to grill the PCUSA minister on his theology.

Of course religion came up and I’m glad it did.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Carmen Fowler LaBerge

The “what do you do” question popped up while we sipped our tea. So I carefully explained the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) seeks to strengthen Christians’ witness in the Public Square, advocate for the Persecuted church abroad, and further renewal efforts in the dwindling oldline Protestant denominations. (No, there isn’t a delicate way to put it.)

The young minister nodded his head and then expressed concerns over the continued decline of PCUSA membership and unorthodox leadership decisions. As the IRD reported, the PCUSA lost 50 congregations since the denomination redefined marriage at General Assembly 2014, as well as 209 congregations total between 2013-2014. IRD President Mark Tooley noted the PCUSA lost 89,296 members in 2013 and 102,791 members in 2012.

“Do you know Carmen Fowler Laberge?” the young Presbyterian pastor asked me. Yes, I told him. Fowler Laberge is a friend and colleague within the renewal movement. She not only serves as President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, but hosts The Reconnect, a podcast show tackling culture from a Biblical worldview. For the young pastor, Carmen’s voice is an encouragement to hear as he struggles with the frustrating decision of his denomination’s leadership. Her voice reminds him he is not the lone orthodox Presbyterian within the PCUSA. Her efforts encourage him to carry on and he asked me to thank her and offered to his gratitude to me and the IRD.


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