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Presbyterian Panel: Majority Believes Jesus is Only Savior, But See Different Paths to Salvation

According to a recent Presbyterian Panel survey of Presbyterian Church (USA) pastors and members, “Most Presbyterians believe that Jesus is central to salvation, but members and teaching elders disagree about how this works.”

The August 2016 Presbyterian Panel Theological Reflection survey was sent to 2,576 panelists: 1,121 panelists received a paper questionnaire in the mail; while 1,455 participated in a web-based version of the same survey. The panelists include two representative sample groups of PCUSA teaching elders (pastors) and PCUSA members. The survey’s response rate was 38 percent for members and 56 percent for teaching elders.

Click on chart to make it larger. Figure 9 is from the Presbyterian Panel Report: Research Services, Presbyterian Church (USA). Theological Reflection: The Report of the Volume 3: 2016 Presbyterian Panel Survey. Louisville, 2016.Salvation

Salvation

The 2016 survey showed that 74 percent of members and 73 percent of teaching elders (pastors) “agree” or “strongly agree” that “Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord,” but the pastors and members have different ideas about the paths to salvation.

When it comes to salvation, the survey found that “nearly half of members believe that people choose Christ as their Savior, while half of teaching elders believe God chooses who is to be saved through Christ. Almost three in ten members and teaching elders hold the view that God saves everyone.”

Half (50 percent) of the pastors surveyed believe that “God chooses who is to be saved through Christ;” while 29 percent believe that “God saves everyone;” and 15 percent believe “People choose Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

For members, most – 46 percent – believe that “People choose Jesus Christ as their Savior.” Twenty-eight percent of members believe that “God saves everyone;” while 20 percent believe that “God choose who is to be saved through Christ.”

Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Six percent of both members and pastors believe that “God saves everyone,” which is also known as universalism.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee responded, “Presbyterians have historically been people of the Reformed faith.  That faith has actual content and doctrine. The beliefs expressed by many of the respondents to this Presbyterian Panel would not be considered representative of Reformed Christianity.  One of the tenets of which is election.  The respondents who believe that people choose salvation by choosing Christ and those who believe that everyone is saved – which is basically universal election – may be ministers and members of the PCUSA but they’re not classically Presbyterian.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith and its attendant Larger and Shorter Cathechisms clearly express the historic Reformed theological tenets including what are known as the five points of Calvinism. The acronym TULIP captures the essence of those ideas:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

The latest Presbyterian Panel reveals that in 2016, many PCUSA pastors and members no longer believe in “Unconditional election” which holds that God predestined some individuals — the elect — to be saved, not on their merit, but because of His love and mercy.

Again, LaBerge comments, “It is possible that those answering the Panel survey have discerned that the Bible does not teach, and they should therefore not uphold, the theological tenet of election.  It is possible that living through the ‘me and Jesus’ evangelical era of American Christianity in the late 20th century, and in the selfie culture of today, an Armenian view of salvation is more palatable. But it is also possible that the nearly 30% of pastors and members who believe that everyone is saved understand, preach and teach a different Gospel from the one where Jesus is the once for all, all sufficient, fully necessary atoning sacrifice for the salvation of those who will be saved.” 

Baptism/Lord’s Supper

The survey also asks about panelist’s views on the Lord’s Supper, and whether baptism should be required for participation. 

Click on chart to make it larger. Figure 16 is from the Presbyterian Panel Report: Research Services, Presbyterian Church (USA). Theological Reflection: The Report of the Volume 3: 2016 Presbyterian Panel Survey. Louisville, 2016.

PCUSA presbyteries have or will vote on two separate amendments to the denomination’s constitution – or Book of Order – both of which seek to “decouple baptism from the Lord’s Supper by removing the requirement of baptism for admission to the table.” Each was approved by the 222nd General Assembly in June 2016 and now must be ratified by a majority of the presbyteries.

In a June, 2016 General Assembly analysis, LaBerge, wrote “According to Reformed theology there are three marks of the true church: where the word is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and church discipline rightly applied. The first and third marks have been at issue among American Presbyterians since the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s. But to this point, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been maintained, at least in the denomination’s documents, with integrity. The new Directory for Worship adopted by the General Assembly effectively decouples baptism from the Lord’s Supper by removing the requirement of baptism for admission to the table.”

One of the amendments seeks to change the verbiage of the Theology of the Lord’s Supper found in the PCUSA’s Directory of Worship. The second one is a complete re-write of the denomination’s Directory of Worship.

The Presbyterian Panel asked panelists about this issue, “not to try to influence the presbyteries one way or the other, but so future church leaders might have a snapshot of denomination-wide opinions on these issues as part of their discernment,” the report states.

It found that 59 percent of pastors and 53 percent of members “definitely” agree with the idea to “to authorize participation of those not baptized in the Lord’s Supper, followed by an invitation to be baptized later.”

Those saying “Yes, possibly” include 23 percent of teaching elders and 26 percent of members. Saying “No,” was 13 percent of pastors and 11 percent of members. Five percent of teaching elders and 11 percent of members weren’t sure.

“Among members, more of the theological moderate-to-liberals than of the conservatives affirm the new approach. Among teaching elders, more moderate-to-liberals than conservatives and more women than men endorse the approach,” the report said.

Click on chart to make it larger. Figure 7 is from the Presbyterian Panel Report: Research Services, Presbyterian Church (USA). Theological Reflection: The Report of the Volume 3: 2016 Presbyterian Panel Survey. Louisville, 2016.

Other results found in the report include:

  • 56 percent of members and teaching elders “agree” or “strongly agree” that “Jesus was born of a virgin.” (See Figure 7 of the report)
  • 69 percent of members and 89 percent of pastors “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “As a church committed to Reformed theology, the PCUSA must take sin seriously.” (See Figure 7 of the report)
  • Half of the members surveyed and 57 percent of the pastors “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement: “In the realm of values, the final authority about good and bad is the Scriptures.” (See Figure 7 of the report)
  • 63 percent of pastors “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “Being witness to the good news of Jesus Christ to people who practice a different religion should be a primary goal of the PCUSA;” 19 percent “disagreed” or strongly disagreed” with the statement; while 18 percent neither agreed or disagreed. (See Figure 3 of the report)
  • “Fewer than three in 10 members or teaching elders “agree” or “strongly agree” that “The Bible cannot be reinterpreted according to the changing circumstances in which we read it.” (See Figure 7 of the report)
  • “The five listed spiritual resources that the most members and teaching elders cite as being very important to them are: Jesus Christ’s teaching, life, or example; The leading of the Holy Spirit; God’s will; Scripture; Jesus Christ’s leading through prayer.” (See Figure 10 of the report)
  • “Grace is very important to the most members and teaching elders. Also very important to majorities of members and teaching elders are: The sovereignty of God; Ministers and elders lead the church together; Stewardship; The priesthood of all believers.” (see Figure 13 of the report)
  • “Large majorities of both members and teaching elders strongly agree or agree that God elects us for service, and not just for salvation, and that they have tried to pursue a vocation that best uses the talents and gifts God has given them. Nine in ten teaching elders—but only six in ten members—hold that their entire life’s work is a calling to honor and glorify God. (See Figure 17 of the report)
  • Asked about how often the panelists feel guided by God in the midst of daily activities, “Roughly one-third of members (35 percent) and one-half of teaching elders (52 percent) feel guided at least daily.” (See Figure 21 of the report) The report goes on to say that “More of the theologically conservative members and teaching elders than of their moderate-to-liberal peers feel guided daily by God. Members and teaching elders who feel guided daily tend to be older than those who do not feel so guided.”

For a look at how these results compare with a survey of the U.S. population, see the The State of Theology study conducted by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research. The white paper can be found here, and the research here.

Open-ended questions

The survey also asked panelists several open-ended questions. In answer to the question “In your opinion, what is distinctive about Reformed/Presbyterian theology?,” PCUSA pastors answered, in part: (To read more verbatim answers, see Appendix C at the end of the online report.

  • God gave us capacity to faith, but it includes (and in no way excludes) thinking, questioning and seeking.
  • Grace God’sSoverignty
  • All things represented by the Nicene & Apostles Creeds.
  • Reformed and always reforming (Stated often in various ways in the pastor’s answers)
  • The idea that we are always being reformed by the Holy Spirit – and therefore may realize from time to time that we need to change our practice or opinion. It is also fairly distinctive that our polity requires that we do almost all things by group (committee, governing body, congregation, etc.), which I interpret as a strong theological statement of community.
  • Our communal interpretation of scripture in light of current circumstances, tradition, prayer and humility.
  • The reformed understanding of human depravity/sin reminds us that neither the church nor the Christian community is to be glorified but God. We are simultaneously sinners and saved, who need continual conversion; and this should mean that we stand in solidarity with all of humanity rather than seeing ourselves as set apart.
  • being a place of moral discourse; taking into consideration the culture and history as scripture is understood and interpreted; Jesus is a living God and therefore present in newness as the Holy Spirit guides us
  • Safe space to live in the tension, listening to each other for the Spirit, applying critical thinking and sound theology leading to moving together guided by the Spirit as the body of Christ–this core process keeps us reformed and reforming and is reflected in our PCUSA constitution.
  • Deep humility, lifelong learning/exploring/questioning, desire for compromise and willingness to find ways that different voices can be held together, a belief that the means matters, God’s sovereignty, grace-grace-grace
  • Reformed and always reforming, guided by the Spirit in our daily context
  • The emphasis on God’s sovereignty, and grace. It is not our decisions or worthiness, but God’s gracious and loving choice which saves us and makes us God’s children. The acknowledgement that sin and evil are real and powerful in our world and in each of our lives (total depravity), but yet God loves us still. I lean toward a universalist understanding of salvation, but see that as being in line with the ‘good hope for all’ as it is called in our confessions. Our ecclesiastical understanding of the priesthood of all believers and leadership of elders and ministers also is a way of expressing our belief that God works through humans in community, not isolation. Our love for one another is our response to God’s love for us.
  • Reformed theology encourages the development and constant reexamination of one’s encounter with God throughout life. There are few ‘standard answers’ and there is a realistic approach to all of the inconsistencies in life. By dialog with other believers, study, prayer, worship, and involvement in mission; ours is a living faith that can mature and change over time to make us more faithful servants of God’s ways with other people and the care of all creation.
  • Trusts group decision-making to discern God’s will. God alone is Lord of the conscience. Always seeking to be reformed. Commitment to social justice. Humility – we don’t claim to be the only church with all the answers.
  • Focus on the 5 solas, which has led us historically to make God’s concern for and primary purpose to bring all peoples to himself in Jesus our main focus

Teaching elders also answered the open-ended question “In your opinion, what does this say about the relationship of Baptism to the Lord’s Table.” Those answers include in part: (To read more verbatim answers, see Appendix G at the end of the online report.

  • Christ would have never stopped people and asked whether they were baptized, therefore ‘worthy’.
  • That it is not our table. We have no business saying who can eat at God’s table.
  • To call it ‘the Lord’s table’ is to say that it isn’t mine. It seems as if, by restricting one Sacrament as accessible only after another Sacrament, we are putting a fence around it that we control and not Christ.
  • a weakening of the relationship, also gives the false impression that to follow Jesus is easy and takes no commitment.
  • I don’t agree with the premise of the question. I see it as an issue regarding the relationship of sacraments to faith and discipleship. Baptism takes time; it’s a planned thing that requires votes and liturgy and making sure someone fills the pitcher with water. The Lord’s Table, if baptism is not required, could foreseeably become a more ‘spontaneous’ experience of the divine to someone who is seeking. We live in an increasingly unchurched world and the Table is an incredibly powerful experience of grace. I’ve never known anyone to shy away from religion because Communion was too readily available; I’ve known too many to leave the church entirely because they were refused Communion.
  • Baptism is one act, but communion is an ongoing opportunity to become closer to Christ
  • In Baptism we identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I have not identified with the one who invites me to the table, to eat his body and drink his blood, it is meaningless.
  • Both are sacraments. Does it matter which order they are received. I think not!
  • Jesus asked us to remember him in this way through this meal. Children and adults need to understand Christ’s sacrifice and their understanding will increase with age and maturity. We have been entrusted to pass on faith and when children and adults are baptized we make those promises to help them grow in faith. The two can go hand in hand, but I would lean towards baptism first and then communion.
  • I believe that the Lord’s Table is Biblically a feast of inclusion. It is transgressed when it is used to strengthen social barriers, especially those related to class and race. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a historically white and affluent denomination. This fact means that many of our requirements for participation (such as baptism) exclude people of particular racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, though without particular malice. As long as we remain a primarily white and affluent denomination, I do not believe that we have the right to exclude anyone from the table.
  • Baptism is required for Lord’s table
  • I see that Christ invited all to the table, breaking boundaries all the time. It is the invitation to the kingdom of God. It makes sense that baptism follows such an invitation.
  • I think they are related as mysteries, as things that are bigger than theology or creeds or denomination or even religion, they embody the wideness and love of God, events in the life of the church that are fuller when experienced, not just talked about or specifically defined in confessions, they are central to the life of the church and unite not only a particular church, but all people, strengthening them to more fully share the love of God with the world. It should be added, I don’t think election is about salvation, but rather being elected to participate in God’s Grace, and to share God’s love as Christ’s hands and feet
  • That Baptism is not a ‘work’ to be performed in order to receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It’s related to the reason why we no longer demand confirmation/church membership for our children in order to receive the sacrament.
  • I think this could very well break the traditional understanding of the two, a relationship that has been closely identified though experience and history. The two definitely help to inform each other, and really should not be separated
  • If this passes it will separate being baptized into God’s family from sharing in the family meal. It may be more true to what is already happening in many churches
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PCUSA’s Way Forward Commission Establishes Process to Encourage Engagement

(Office of the General Assembly news release). The General Assembly Way Forward Commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has released its process for receiving initial communications and suggestions from any interested PCUSA groups or individuals. The online form is designed to assist the commission in identifying areas for continued discernment about the ministries and structure of the national denomination.

The form is available in English, Korean, and Spanish, although the commission will accept submissions in any language. Recognizing the timeframe and scope of their work, the commission has set February 28 as a deadline for submissions, which are limited to 2,000 words.

Since the body’s first meeting in mid-December at Auburn Seminary in New York, the commission’s working groups have been active in candid conversations throughout the church. This current process for receiving input is an important step in broadening those conversations as the commission develops a vision for the structure and staffing of the national church.

The commission has committed to modeling shared values of humility, openness, and innovation as Reformed and ever-reforming Presbyterians, believing in the power of the Holy Spirit to provide courage to nimbly move in new directions. Regular, two-way communication among commission members and with the church about the commission’s agendas, observations, emerging discernment, and recommendations is being established to ensure transparency and effective communication.

The Way Forward Commission’s moderator, Mark Hostetter, encouraged wide participation in the comment process, and asked that it be done quickly. “Now is the time for Presbyterians, individually or together in groups, to come forward with their best thinking, their most creative dreaming, for how we will engage with each other as a denomination in our changed world,” he said.

Again, the deadline for submission of the comment form to the commission is February 28, 2017.

The Way Forward Commission’s scheduled meetings for 2017 are: March 5–7 at Johnson C. Smith and Columbia Theological seminaries in Atlanta; May 15–17 in Chicago; and September 17–19 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. The commission also plans to hold conference call meetings February 7, April 18, and August 9.

For more information, click here.

Comment Form for the Way Forward Commission

The Way Forward Commission

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PCUSA Signs on to Climate and Justice Letter to President-elect Trump

(Be Gregg Brekke, Presbyterian News Service). The Presbyterian Church (USA), via its Office of Public Witness, has joined 30 other faith communities endorsing a letter to President-elect Trump urging him and his administration to prioritize issues of climate change, the environment and justice.

Saying the group believes “the United States can and must play a leadership role in addressing these environmental challenges which threaten our planet, our security, the health of our families, and the fate of communities throughout the world,” the letter asked the new administration to work across party lines to “safeguard God’s creation, address the impacts of climate change on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Key policy areas identified for action by the faith communities are greenhouse gas emissions, energy—specifically clean energy production, just transition and job creation in pursuit of a clean energy economy, climate finance, upholding international climate commitments, preserving public and sacred lands, safeguarding American Indian and Alaska Native rights, protecting endangered species, ensuring humane U.S.-Mexico border policies, and a renewed commitment to ensure all communities have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.

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Presbytery Denies Church’s Request to Leave PCUSA with Church Property

(By Lee Shearer, The Athens Banner-Herald). An assembly of Northeast Georgia Presbytery leaders emphatically denied a breakaway Athens congregation’s request to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination and take the local church property with them as they join a more conservative denomination.

But the effect of the vote remains to be seen.

Church leaders Monday night said some members of Athens’ Central Presbyterian Church’s breakaway faction filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in Clarke County Superior Court, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order that would prevent the presbytery from taking control of Central’s Alps Road property, valued at more than $3 million.

Under the rules of the Presbyterian Church (USA), also called PCUSA, church property is owned by local congregations, but agree to a covenant that property is held in trust for the benefit of the denomination.

Presbytery leaders also received letters Monday from Central pastors Bob Bohler and Deb Trimpe renouncing their affiliation with the denomination.

Presbytery leaders were already poised to oust the two from the denomination for what they said was a failure of leadership and violations of their ordination vows, among other reasons.
 

Nearly 200 people gathered in Winder’s First Presbyterian Church for Tuesday’s meeting. After more than four hours of discussion and debate, they voted by about a 5-1 ratio to deny the dismissal with property request of Central Presbyterian’s “Session,” a local governing body like a board of deacons.

In a January 2016 vote, Central members voted overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the mainstream PCUSA denomination. But some former members and others speaking Tuesday described an atmosphere of hostility and aggression that some felt was a deliberate campaign to drive out members who didn’t agree with the conservative side that wanted to leave the denomination.

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Related article: Central Presbyterian in Athens Disaffiliates from PCUSA; Joins ECO

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6 PCUSA Affiliated Christian Theologians Sign Letter Opposing Sessions’ Nomination as Attorney General

Six representatives of Presbyterian Church (USA) related theological institutions are among 57 Christian theologians who have signed a letter opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

“As theologians across the denominational spectrum, we add our voices to the growing number of Americans who urge you to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General of the United States. We are concerned that Senator Sessions does not embrace the conception of justice that we hold as Christians; we have no confidence in his ability to enforce the values we share as Americans. His racist track record erodes the trust of many of the members of our faith communities and we are united in our opposition to his nomination,” the letter states.

It was delivered to Charles E. Grassley, Senate Judiciary Chairman; Dianne G. Feinstein, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on January 9 the day before the Senate Judiciary Committee met for the Attorney General Nomination.

Signers affiliated with PCUSA related institutions include:

Auburn Seminary

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President of Auburn Seminary

Macky Alston, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth

McCormick Theological Seminary

Dr. Reggie Williams, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics

Princeton Theological Seminary

George Hunsinger, Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology

Kaitlyn M. Dugan (Kait), Curator of the Barth Collection

Sonia E. Waters, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

The letter:

“As theologians across the denominational spectrum, we add our voices to the growing number of Americans who urge you to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General of the United States. We are concerned that Senator Sessions does not embrace the conception of justice that we hold as Christians; we have no confidence in his ability to enforce the values we share as Americans. His racist track record erodes the trust of many of the members of our faith communities and we are united in our opposition to his nomination.

Why is this important?

The justice that is central to the work of Attorney General is a value that is shared by people of many faiths. As Christians, we are guided in our understanding of justice by the biblical witness to Jesus Christ. As made clear in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we are to “seek first the Kingdom,” as the righteous reign of God “on earth, as it is in heaven.” This reign is marked by love, justice and life. In his teachings, Jesus deepens the love of neighbor to the love of enemy. He calls us to move from retaliatory justice to an ethic of restorative justice. He invites those who follow him to an abundant life that crosses borders.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25). The Sermon on the Mount directs our care to the flourishing of all people, especially the vulnerable, and is consistent with the values of justice and human flourishing that are vital to our American democracy.

While Jesus stood in embodied solidarity with the vulnerable, it is through the law that our country offers protections for its most vulnerable members. Vulnerable populations in our country — victims of police brutality, undocumented workers, LGBTQ persons, women, people of color, and people of non-Christian faiths — are placed at increased risk of further harm when our laws are not upheld. Yet, throughout his career, Senator Sessions has taken positions that compromise the rights of these vulnerable populations. His racist comments reflect prejudice against people of color. His opposition to immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and equal access for persons with disabilities make it unlikely that he shares the Christian vision of justice and protection of the vulnerable that we embrace.

Senator Sessions’ racist remarks and unjust policies make it morally unacceptable for him to be America’s top law-enforcement officer. We urge you to reject his nomination.

The letter also stated that the seminary affiliations were listed for identification purposes only.

Related articles:

Christian groups express ‘grave concerns’ about Trump agenda, appointments

Statement by Major Christian Organizations on President-Elect Trump’s Policy Agenda and Political Appointments

A Call to the President-Elect from the National Council of Churches

 

 

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Central Presbyterian in Athens Disaffiliates from PCUSA; Joins ECO

(Press release). ATHENS, GA, January 9, 2017 – Central Presbyterian Church leaders announced today that the church has disaffiliated from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in order to immediately associate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which is another national Reformed Presbyterian denomination.

“We are excited to be joining ECO,” said Dr. Bob Bohler, senior pastor for nearly 20 years. “It is a growing, vibrant denomination with a strong, Biblical theology, and a great match on all counts for our church.”

The church’s corporate board of directors, which also functioned as the church’s “Session,” unanimously voted on January 4 to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join with ECO as soon as possible..

“We had been trying to work with our local presbytery,” said Associate Pastor Deb Trimpe. “But the presbytery announced that it intended to fire all pastors, remove the church’s governing body, and take over the church, telling us that anyone who didn’t like it was free to leave.”

Under the circumstances, the leadership of the church believed that continued strife was not the best course for this vibrant church. As part of the move to the new denomination, the church changed its name to Alps Road Presbyterian Church and filed an equitable action asking a judge to determine the status of the property in light of the change of denominations.

“We are ready to refocus our efforts on our programs and missions, both in our community and beyond, and we believe becoming the first ECO church in our area will best further our work,” Bohler said. “I’ve been humbled by the community’s overwhelming support for our church during this time.”

The number of churches in the ECO denomination has grown more than 10-fold in the past few years, making it one of the fastest growing denominations in the country. Other ECO churches include Highland Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the San Francisco Bay area in California.

Related articles:

Dissenters Can’t Take Central Presbyterian Property With Them if They Leave PCUSA

Central Presbyterian Church Legal Battle with PCUSA Heats Up

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PCUSA College Event: Tower of Babel a ‘Holy Nudge Towards Diversity,’ Myth

(By Michael Gryboski, The Christian Post). A large annual college gathering of Presbyterian Church (USA) has labeled the punishment God gave at the Tower of Babel “a holy nudge towards diversity.” A pastor at the event also suggested that the Babel account is a myth.

While cautioning that he was not saying that “the Bible is a bunch of made-up stuff,” the Rev. Paul Roberts Sr., president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, told over 1,000 college students earlier this week, “We use this word ‘myth’ in the best possible sense of the word. This particular type of literature is not aimed at presenting history but truth, about God and how God’s people function in the world,” as reported by PNS.

The theme for this year’s Jan. 2-5 conference was “Beyond Babel” and centered on the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel, where God confuses the people’s language and scatters them after they decide to build a city with a tower “that reaches to the heavens” and make a name for themselves.

According to the promotional material sent out in advance of the college conference in Montreat, North Carolina, God’s punishment of scattering the people of Babel by giving them different languages was meant to advance diversity.

“One people with one language become scattered and multilingual. A united community finds itself confused and scattered. Clarity becomes babble. Construction on a tower stops,” the promotional material states.

“In 2017 we will we see how God gave an ancient people a holy nudge towards diversity, and we will consider how God is nudging us today too.”

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Related article: College Conference attendees are challenged to move ‘Beyond Babel’

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More than $1 Million Saved by Moving Ordination Exams Online

(By Eva Stimson, Office of the General Assembly). Passing the standard ordination exams is a major milestone for candidates seeking to become teaching elders (ministers) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Until recently, the exam system depended on a cumbersome process involving mountains of paper, hefty fees, travel to test sites, and waits of several months for results.

Today, a streamlined online exam system, now in its fifth year, is saving candidates time and money and has already eliminated more than $1 million in expenses for the denomination.

Much of the savings is in travel costs, says the Rev. Tim Cargal, Assistant Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, whose office oversees Preparation for Ministry. Before moving the exams online, he explains, “We would have to bring exam readers to centralized locations (in six regions of the country) and provide their room and board for three-to-four days.”

Now the readers—a mix of teaching and ruling elders chosen by their presbyteries to evaluate the exams—can do all the work on their computers at home in 10 to 12 hours, plus some time for preparation and training.

The cost savings have enabled exam fees for candidates (typically seminary students) to be reduced by a third—from $100 to $65 per exam.

The online exams also are offered more frequently than the previous paper ones. The senior ordination exams—four essay-type exams (Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Reformed Theology, Worship and Sacraments), which used to be offered only twice a year—are now offered four times a year. The Bible Content Examination, in machine-scorable format, is now offered twice a year instead of annually.

The Reverend Ken Broman-Fulks, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in High Point, North Carolina, served on a team of exam readers for his region shortly before the system migrated online. He is now moderator of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC), the 24-member group responsible for writing the ordination exams.

“The transition to online exams has gone very well,” he says.

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Washington Church: New Denomination, New Pastor

(By Cale Johnson, The Reflector). For three years Woodland Presbyterian Church went without an official pastor.

The long-time church in Woodland was formed in 1889 and has been through plenty of adversity over the years. These last three years will probably add to that list, but things are now back on track for the congregation.

Kevin and Cindy Leach

Woodland Presbyterian Church’s former pastor was Larry Brown. After 25 years of service he retired and the church brought in an interim pastor. At about this time, the church also decided to switch from the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) denomination over to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) denomination. Member Mike Ferguson said the new denomination “more closely aligned with the beliefs of the members of Woodland Presbyterian.”

Because of the transition, Woodland Presbyterian could not get a new pastor until they were officially out of the PCUSA and in the EPC. This process didn’t happen until last June. Six months later new Pastor Kevin Leach was hired. He and his wife joined the church for worship for the first time on Dec. 4.

For the last 29 years Leach has done ministry at three different churches on the East Coast, the most recent of which was in Massachusetts. He is, however, from the Pacific Northwest, specifically the Seattle area where he was born, raised, and attended college at Seattle Pacific University.

Leach is joined by his wife Cindy. Together they are still a little surprised to be in Woodland.

“I come from a congregational background and if you had said last January that this time next year I would be a pastor in a Presbyterian church, I would have said that you were dreaming.  But in the process of searching for a new position, I came across the profile of a great church that was in my home state of Washington,” Leach said. “It took me only about three emails with the search committee to know that this was a very Godly and committed church family.”

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Pittsburgh Presbytery Calls for State Ban on Assault Rifles

(By Peter Smith, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). The Pittsburgh Presbytery is urging state legislators to ban assault rifles used in recent high-profile shootings.

While Pennsylvania legislators have shown more willingness to expand than contract gun rights in recent sessions, the presbytery is nevertheless arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court allows for local regulations of arms sales and manufacturing. It says there are reduced “death rates due to gun violence in states which have rigorous gun safety provisions.”

The open letter to Pennsylvania legislators and congregations of the Pittsburgh Presbytery follows the passage of the statement at the Dec. 8 meeting of the presbytery. It represents 140 congregations and about 30,000 members of Allegheny County churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

The letter cites the use of specific assault rifles in two recent massacres earlier in 2016 — the killings of five adults and an unborn child in Wilkinsburg in March and the killings of 49 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“We … call on our commonwealth to ban this type of weapon from the state, city and county except for its use by governmental authorities,” the resolution states. It also calls for banning armor-piercing handgun ammunition and .50-caliber sniper rifles.

It urges “social justice and opportunity for oppressed populations and those aggrieved citizens tempted by violence.”

It recommends that Presbyterians “consider destroying their assault weapons” and that the church consider divesting financial support for those manufacturing them.

Read the article on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette site.

Read the resolution, approved at Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Dec. 8 meeting below:

The Pittsburgh Presbytery Peacemaking Ministry Team moves the following resolution be sent to selected members of committees of the State Legislature, and others as noted.
 
In the spring of 2016 the Pittsburgh Presbytery addressed State Legislative leaders to develop several measures for gun safety; we now address the same leaders to ban the semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles as requested by the 219th general Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. There is no objection to sporting or hunting guns in this resolution.
 
Our actions follow the recommendations of the 219th General Assembly entitled Gun Violence, Gospel Values which concurs with the actions of The United Methodist Church, The United Church of Christ, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the National Council of Churches in promoting public safety by reducing gun violence. Controlling and regulating guns reduces death rates due to gun violence in states which have rigorous gun safety provisions.
 
The Gospel values of peace, life, and community responsibility for order all lead to the protection of the image of God in human life while recognizing we also sin and in fits of rage or mental weakness are capable of murdering human life.  We understand the commandment not to murder implies social responsibility for the community to protect life from murderous acts by establishing social order and striving for a more peaceable society while reducing the threats of violence.
 
Our region and nation have recently suffered from the use of repeating rifles sometimes called assault weapons and the ban on assault weapons which was U.S. law nationally for ten years has expired: 
 
The importation of the infamous AK 47 of Russian manufacture has been eliminated by sanctions imposed on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. We welcome this ban, and it has forced the company manufacturing them to turn to the production of other products.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the right of local governments to regulate arms sales and manufacture. We concur with the second amendment’s call for a well‐regulated militia and the proper limitations of arms.
 
The AR‐15 is suspected in the recent massacre in Wilkinsburg. The Sig Sauer MCX was used in Orlando. We therefore call on our Commonwealth to ban this type of weapon from the state, city and the county except for its use by governmental authorities. The weapons that need to be banned are listed in legislation before the State Legislature submitted to the Judiciary Committee on June 29, 2016. The list is available from your state legislator. 
 
We urge social justice and opportunity for oppressed populations and those aggrieved citizens tempted by violence. We strongly affirm the Apostle Paul’s commendation of respect for the state and urge his ethic of love lead to justice for the oppressed. 
 
We urge all church property to be gun free and we oppose the manufacture and sale of military style weapons to the American public. We recommend the investigation and divestment of all possible church financial support for the gun manufactures of assault weapons except for governmental institutions. We recommend all Presbyterians consider destroying their assault weapons. 
 
This resolution and recommended action is a continuation and deepening of the Presbytery’s previous action recommending gun safety measures to certain state legislators and the General Assembly’s policy of 2010 urging action for gun safety.
 
Resolution approved by the Peacemaking Ministry Team of Pittsburgh Presbytery: Oct. 19 at the Eastminster Presbyterian Church. 
 
To be sent in attached letter to: Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, Sen. Jay Costa, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Rep. Ron Marsico, Rep. Brandon Neuman, Rep. Joseph Petrarca, Sen. Guy Reschentaler, Rep. Rick Saccone, Speaker Mike Turzai, and Sen. Randy Vulakovich, Governor Tom Wolfe, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh‐Post Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and Pittsburgh P‐news email.

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