The departure of congregations from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) poses major risks, including the threat to both church unity and independence from the state, says one leader in the denomination.
Kears Pollock, moderator of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, has invited fellow Presbyterians to join an "informative" convocation, titled "Our Freedom of Religion at Risk – A Presbyterian Crisis," next year amid an exodus of a growing minority of congregations from the PC (USA).
"The unity of the church is at risk from within and from without," Pollock states in his invitation to the Feb. 19, 2009, event. "The current activities of some congregations and ministers encouraging division within the church can lead to subordination of the church to the state particularly when congregational sessions/trustees file civil suits against Presbyteries."
Pollock was addressing the court battles between congregations that left the denomination and their presbyteries – regional bodies of the PC (USA) – over church property ownership.
According to a June report by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, 40 presbyteries face, or have faced, legal battles or similar challenges.
Pollock believes involving the courts threatens the religious practices of the denomination. "Court orders to prevent presbyteries from dealing with division, disorder, disobedience, dismissal and determination of the true church threaten the beliefs and practices of our denomination," according to a promotional flier for the convocation.
"The evolving civil law in many jurisdictions appears intent on adopting a default condition of requiring all non-hierarchical denominations to be treated as congregational in character ignoring the Biblical and historical nature of Presbyterian ecclesiology," Pollock stated.
"It weakens the constitutional barrier against government interference in religion."
Conservative Presbyterians who have left the PC (USA) have argued that the denomination has abandoned its Reformed roots and biblical foundation. Controversy was stirred in 2001 when the General Assembly – the denomination's highest governing body – did not affirm the "singular" saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Conservatives became even more discontent when the 2006 General Assembly adopted a resolution that some believe allowed leeway for homosexual ordination.
Furthermore, this past summer the high governing body voted to remove from the denomination's constitution the requirement that clergy live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." The proposal has been relegated to the presbyteries for approval.
The Pittsburgh moderator suggested that Presbyterians in property disputes are practicing "me centered" religion.
"We have not emphasized fully that Christ’s church is not the building where one worships. Nor is the church the congregation of one’s membership. Rather, we are one church united by the shared covenant through Christ and ultimately, through ecumenism, connected with the whole church, catholic," Pollock stated.
The Feb. 19 convocation will be webcast on the Pittsburgh Presbytery website.
[from The Christian Post RSS Feed by Lillian Kwon]