Report on the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Last week, Elders Doug Dempsey and David Field accompanied me to our annual GA meeting. This year it was held in Memphis Tennessee at Hope EPC, a Presbyterian mega-church. This will be a brief document to highlight some of the more important aspects of the assembly for our local church.
For clarity, we will divide this report into two parts; first we will discuss some very optimistic goings-on in our denomination, then we will lay out one or two concerns.
First, the EPC is continuing to show some very significant signs of life. For one, the denomination is growing. In the last few years, the EPC has taken on a plethora of new churches, many of which are defecting from the PCUSA, the largest and most liberal body of Presbyterians, to which we have no relation. Because the PCUSA has made a dramatic turn away from orthodoxy toward radical liberalism in the last decades, many churches are seeking another more evangelical body to join. Scores are joining the EPC. This year we received another couple dozen, bringing our number of churches to 306. Most of this growth, though, is through transfer of membership and reception of churches, and not necessarily through evangelism.
I am proud to report that the EPC continues to blaze a trail in terms of global missions. The EPC has intentinally focused on the Muslim world as a denomination. This is wonderful as the EPC sends many missionaries to places in the world that other churches and sending-groups are afraid to go. Many of the situations on the field are so tenuous that our missionaries could either not be named, or else their location could not be disclosed. The highpoint of the assembly, for me, was the consecration service of several new missions couples (and one single woman) to the mission field. This is always a joyfully tear-filled moment, and one we long to see happen in our local church as well.
One example: mission work, spear-headed by the EPC, in the nation of Kazakhstan has been so successful that a new denomination has been born, the "Association of Reformed Churches of Kazakhstan." During our assembly, a pastor-leader of this new denomination gave a report, translated to the gathered delegates by the very EPC evangelist that helped lead him to the Lord. Such moments make the beauty of connectinalism clear. We pray that God will lead us to many more successes in the near future. Reformed churches are also growing rapidly in other places in the world; especially Mexico and Brazil as other reports to the delegates made clear. The latter, is experiencing an incredible era of growth and God-given success.
Another highlight was the church-planting lunch. Our own David Field organized this networking event. There, we were encouraged to see a number of other churches--like our own--discussing the latest stratgies to plant new churches in the USA. This, to me, is the essence of a "missional" denomination: our own culture is considered by many experts to be post-evangelical, and therefore the difficult work of church planting must be renewed. Mr. Field and I were greatly encouraged to see the churches that are intending to plant "daughter churches" in the near future. Our own zeal for this endeavor was certainly increased.
Now for the concerns: this assembly, our denomination passed two measures that cause our elders some consternation. Overtures 10A and 10B passed by a large majority. Briefly, these two measures solidify and faciliate the process of ordained women teaching elders (pastors) in the EPC. In fact, should a certain presbytery (geographic region) choose NOT to ordain a women, that woman's home church can now actually leave their geographic presbytery and enter an adjoining presbytery. This redefines what it means to be "Presbyterian." Never before could a church actually change presbyteries due to a theological disagreement with their peers. Our session perceives the idea of women's ordination to be misguided biblically because it defies specific passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy that clearly mitigate against it.
This is a concern to our session (including Pastor Dave and myself) because several denominations in the past have tended to follow three predictable steps in the last one hundred years. This is what we call the "slippery slope" : 1) First, we have seen the ordination of women in quite a few denominations. 2) Secondly, we have observed a move towards gender-neutral language in Bible translations and descriptions of God. The Christian Reformed Church just approved gender-neutral versions of the Heidleberg Catechism for example. And finally, 3) as human gender is viewed less and less biblically, many denominations have moved towards ordination of homosexuals and the sanctioning of homosexual marriage. These three events seem to follow one after another, sometimes a decade or so apart. We advise the reader to consult the histories of the PCUSA, the Reformed Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church as cases in point of this slippery slope.
While we CANNOT predict with certainty that these latter two steps will follow for the EPC, the passage of 10A and 10B seem to be ominous warnings to our session. A more detailed discussion of women's ordination, and why our session stands opposed to it, can be found on our website at: www.faithepc.net
. Click on the Pastor's Desk, and scroll down to the article entitled "Pastors With Purses: The Role of Women as Teaching Elders."
Overall, though, we found the General Assembly to be an uplifting time of mutual edification. We continue to be proud to be part of a denomination that takes missions and our Reformed roots seriously.
Matthew Everhard, Pastor
Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Brooksville Florida
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