Debbie Berkley says what I’ve been thinking – so I’ll just point you to her excellent blog.
What’s in a Name?
It was December, December 6th to be precise, in Chicago, where those of us who had been wrestling for months to come up with a name for the baby we affectionately referred to as the “new Reformed body” returned to the table, committed to its Christening. We had come up with all kinds of names, but nothing had really stuck. To that point we had assembled collections of words, accurate in meaning but uninspired. We wanted a name that caused us to think and live differently, embrace a larger mission and higher calling with more creativity. We wanted a name that was God-inspired.
As we talked and prayed that morning, three descriptive words emerged – evangelical, covenant and order. Evangelical directs us to be witnesses to the hope of the gospel, engaged in our culture and planting missional communities. Order is a word rich in heritage but not typically used in American denominational circles these days. It conveys commitment to live life together around a common theological core. Covenant reminds us that God initiated a relationship with us that then connects us to each other. We added Presbyterian. Presbyterian certainly describes our style of government, but even more it describes our continuity with a larger, global family of faith.
As we continued our discussion, these words took hold of us. We began to see the beauty of the message they conveyed. We left Chicago in agreement on Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, ECO for short to bring to mind our desire to create an ecosystem for flourishing congregations. We announced the name at the January conference in Orlando. John Ortberg outlined the vision for ECO in his opening presentation. Since then ECO has taken hold of the imagination of many individuals and congregations.
Shortly after the Orlando conference, we were contacted by the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), a denomination of 800 congregations based in Chicago, expressing a concern that that our new name is too close to the ECC and has the potential to cause confusion. Our subsequent conversations with the ECC have been nothing but beautiful and respectful. We have looked at our core values and tried to live into our relationships as Christian brothers and sisters with mutual respect and affirmation of ministry.
Because we value this relationship and want to honor their concerns, we have agreed to modify our name slightly. We will keep the acronym ECO, but we will change the descriptors. Beginning today, April 9, 2012, we will be known as ECO: a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. It is a small change for us but has major significance for our partners in ministry in the ECC.
What’s in a name? A good name communicates identity. We are and want to be an accountable community of Resurrection people. ECO: a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
In my experience, people learn as much theology from the hymns and songs they sing in worship than they do from the sermons. This is why it is important to take great care in choosing church music. A snappy melody isn’t enough. We always need to ask, “What is this song teaching about the nature of God – and is it true?”
The PC(USA) just published a list of songs to be included in the new, official PC(USA) hymnal. Read this article, and the responses, to see what you think this choice says about the denomination’s theology.
On Monday, March 26, our session met for the first time with the “Resolution Team” (RT) from Elizabeth Presbyter to discuss our request for dismissal to the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO).
The meeting began with introductions, and a Bible study on Ephesians 4 led by presbytery moderator, Rev. Neal Presa. He explained that the purpose of the RT is to work together with the session and congregation to discern and do God’s will, whatever that may be.
After this, the RT asked each member of session, as well as the members of our Denominational Relations Team who were present, to share why they believe that God is calling First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen out of the PC(USA) and into ECO. This took up the bulk of the meeting, as the RT listened carefully to each of the congregational leaders.
In the near future, the RT will be communicating with members of the congregation, inviting anyone who wishes to share their own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about the session’s request to be dismissed from the PC(USA). They will provide opportunities to meet with team members face-to-face, and will also invite written comments through a special email address. The session encourages all of our members to take advantage of this opportunity.
On April 30 the RT and session will meet together again to review and plan next steps in the dismissal process. Please continue to keep all of the people involved in prayer.
Esta tarde domingo, marzo 25, el Consistorio (Session) votó unanimente
pedir a nuestro Presbiterio de Eizabeth ser despedidos amigablemete a
la nueva denominación naciente Evangelical Covenant Order of
Presbyterians ECO (La Orden del Pacto Evangélico de Presbiterianos).
ECO es una denominación reformada, nacida en enero de este año. El
pastor Wildrick y la Anciana gobernante Suzanne Geiger fueron
afortunados por haber estado en Orlando para presenciar su
Para que la nueva denominación sea considerada, nuestro Consistorio
(Session) tiene un acuerdo en que esta debe tener las siguientes
1. Que sea radicalmente comprometida con el mensaje de Jesucristo
2. Que sea Reformada (Presbiteriana) en su teología y gobierno
3. que sea Evangélica con una visión clara de los estándares
teológicos y que tenga un centro de creencias y valores mutuamente
compartidos por todos los lideres o ministros ordenados.
4. Que acepte y celebre la ordenacición de mujeres al ministerio.
5. Que sea una denominación que este enfocada hacia la comunidad, el
mundo, apasionadamente comprometida con el evangelismo, como también
en servir a aquellos que están marginados por la sociedad.
6. Que tenga una limitada y flexible estructura que anime y equipe las
congregaciones que sean inovativas en ministerio, que se sujeten en
dar cuenta unos a otros y que se alienten en cumplir la Gran Comisión.
También debe minimizar las actividades burocráticas.
7. Debe proveer un seguro de salud compresivo y de retiro a bajo
costo para los pastores y empleados tiempo completo.
!Creemos que ya hemos encontrado esta dominación en ECO!
Es ECO una dominación perfecta? por su puesto que no, si la
encontramos dejara de ser perfecta una vez nuestra iglesia se haga
parte de ella. ECO es un cuerpo de creyentes como nosotros que esta
moviéndoles en la misma dirección que creemos Dios nos esta guiando.
El liderazgo es humilde, apasionado y sobre todo comprometido. No
solo creemos que ECO puede proveernos un ambiente saludable en el cual
podemos crecer, sino que nosotros también podemos contribuir a que
esta nueva dominación sea una organizacion fuerte y saludable.
Por favor continúe orando por sus pastores, por el consistorio
(Session) y por el Equipo de Relaciones Denominacionales. Ore también
por el equipo de Resoluciones del presbiterio de Elizabeth.
This afternoon, Sunday, March 25, the session voted unanimously to ask the Presbytery of Elizabeth to dismiss our church to the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO).
ECO is a new reformed denomination, born in January of this year. Pastor Wildrick and Elder Suzanne Geiger were fortunate to be in Orlando for its birth.
In prayerfully considering what we were looking for in a new denominational home, the session agreed that our new denominational home must:
- be radically committed to the Lord Jesus Christ
- be Reformed (Presbyterian) in its theology and polity
- be Evangelical, with a clear set of theological standards or core beliefs shared by all ordained leaders
- celebrate the ministry of women in ordained ministry
- be outwardly focused, and passionately committed to evangelism as well as serving those living in the margins of society
- have a limited, flexible structure that encourages and enables congregations to be innovative in ministry, accountable and encouraging to one another in fulfilling the great commission, and minimizes bureaucratic overhead
- will provide a comprehensive and affordable health care and retirement plans for our pastors
We believe that we have found just that denomination in ECO!
Is ECO a perfect denomination? Of course not, and if it were it would cease to be perfect once our church joins it. But it is a body of like-minded believers, moving forward in the same directions that we believe God is calling our church. The leadership is humble, passionate, and committed. Not only do we believe that ECO can provide a healthy environment in which we can grow, we believe that we can contribute in a meaningful as we help build ECO into a strong and vibrant denomination.
Please continue praying for our pastors, session and the denominational relations team. Pray also for the members of the presbytery’s Resolution Team. The session’s first meeting with the team is tomorrow, March 26, at 7:30 pm.
One of the key components of the Presbytery of Elizabeth’s process for churches seeking dismissal is appointing a “Resolution Team” from the presbytery. This team will meet with the session and members of the congregation to determine if there is a way to reconcile differences and keep First Presbyterian Church within the PC(USA). Failing that, the Resolution Team will meet with us to negotiate the terms and process for dismissal.
Please pray for our session, Denominational Relations Team, and pastors, as well as for the Resolution Team and our presbytery as we enter this stage of the dismissal process. Pray for wisdom, discernment, patience, understanding, grace, and that we may demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ in our meetings together.
March 21, 2011
Why our congregation seeks to leave the PC(USA)
|These times are cataclysmic for mainline denominations. We Presbyterians are no exception, as members of local churches wrestle with unbiblical decisions and trajectories embraced by our national leadership.
In the coming days, you may hear that First Presbyterian Church in Edmond is seeking to be dismissed from its present denomination [the Presbyterian Church (USA)] into another Presbyterian body, but the reasons you hear may not be accurate. Our desire is that all those interested may know the facts behind our decision, rather than the slants which others may concoct to forward their own agendas.
For over four decades, the PC(USA) has been drifting slowly from its original theological convictions founded in the Bible and expressed through creeds and confessions of the Reformation. In recent years, this drift has accelerated exponentially, to the point where core doctrines of biblical faith and central practices of Christian lifestyle are no longer deemed essential or even true.
On the matter of Truth, every individual or group (religious or secular, theist or atheist) must decide what to turn to as ultimate authority. For orthodox Christians, our ultimate authority has always been the Bible, which we embrace as the written Word of God. When Christian groups lose their conviction concerning the Bible’s authority, other views vie for its place. Those alternate views may be formed by the standards of one’s culture, by one’s personal preferences, by prevailing epistemological philosophies, or by the fads of the day, but in the end everyone relies on someone or something beyond their own experience to help them interpret reality.
For us in the PC(USA), the authoritative standard of the Bible for our faith and life has been stripped of its ultimate role as arbiter of our discussions and decisions. In recent years our denomination has agonized over whether or not to embrace truths which for orthodox Christians of all former centuries were settled matters of faith. Leaders have been ordained who are unwilling to openly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, or to recognize his claim as Lord over all. In the name of inclusiveness, the exclusive claims of the gospel that salvation is available only in and through Jesus Christ have been jettisoned. Indeed, salvation as a concept has disintegrated from its original meaning of “rescue from eternal ruin caused by sin and evil” to a new call to make the world a more just and inclusive place for all. While this vision is not a bad thing, it is not the reason Christ died on the cross.
With this change in focus, the PC(USA) has lost its passion for evangelism – for sharing with the world the good news of God’s saving love, and for calling all people to yield their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We have lost our first love as a denomination.
For over seven years, the leaders of our congregation have worked diligently locally and nationally in efforts to realign our denomination with our biblical and theological roots. Now, however, as the move away from Truth accelerates, we can no longer in good conscience remain bound to a denomination we feel has jettisoned the core of why we were called into existence in the first place.
One of the salient issues illustrating this growing betrayal of biblical authority has involved the question of qualifications for ordained leadership within the PC(USA). For the last thirty-five years, our leadership has wrestled repeatedly with the question of whether active homosexuals (and those involved in other lifestyles censured by the Scriptures) may be ordained as ministers, elders or deacons. Until 2010, every time this question was addressed by our national assembly, the answer was no, based upon a common biblical understanding. In 2010, the answer became yes, and that decision became church law after ratification in July of 2011.
For many evangelicals in the PC(USA) this bellwether decision constituted an unacceptable crossing of the theological Rubicon, with our denomination thumbing its nose at clear teachings in Scripture which are not ethically in vogue at present.
Our primary issue is not the normalization of homosexual practice (though the gospel message calls all human beings to repentance in all areas contrary to the will and purpose of God). Our objection goes much deeper – when a group, whose central beliefs spring from God’s revelation as found in the Bible, no longer submits to that overarching authority but arrogates for itself the right to determine truth and goodness, it loses its original identity and purpose. Such has happened in the PC(USA).
As a result, we have felt compelled to declare that we can no longer move in concord with our denomination as it leaves its biblical moorings. We are committed to standing on the truth of God’s written Word, and with the orthodox of the Christian faith around the world and down through history. We are deeply saddened about the breach this entails with the denomination in which many of us were nurtured, but we will not be drawn away from Christ in order to remain with a drifting institution.
In the coming months you may hear that the members of First Presbyterian Edmond are bigoted, hate-filled, homophobic fundamentalists because we have taken this step. Those who know us will know better. By no means are we perfect, but these charges are completely unfounded. We invite all sinners who don’t yet know God’s forgiveness to join us sinners who meet every Sunday on the corner of 10th and Rankin. The love of Christ has led us to many ministries of service and grace for the people of Edmond. We trust He will continue to shape us as instruments of His mercy and love to this city we love.
We ask you not to let any false witness color your thoughts as you read about this matter in the coming days. If you have any questions or concerns, come and meet us for yourselves. We will be glad to listen to you, and to share our hearts in turn, so that Jesus Christ and His gospel may be glorified in all ways.
Mateen Elass is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma