Monday, June 18, 2012

Goodbye PCUSA, hello ECO

"Nothing engenders strife so much as a forced unity, within the same organization, of those who disagree fundamentally in aim." - J. Gresham Machen

Allow me a personal update. On Saturday Memorial Presbyterian Church -- the church my family are members of and where I serve as an elder -- was officially dismissed from the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and received into a brand new denomination ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. As our co-pastor Randy Bare described it Saturday was a "historic and emotional day" as we celebrated a service of worship with representatives of the church body Memorial has been a part of for 88 years, as well as representatives of our new ministry home.

Saturday was the culmination of an arduous years-long journey on which the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit were frequently evident, and I have to say the gracious spirit that characterized this separation was due in large part to the goodwill of those with whom we have sharp disagreements theologically. For those not familiar with Presbyterian church government: individual congregations can't leave unilaterally, but must be granted dismissal by higher church bodies called presbyteries. In our presbytery (The Presbytery of Tropical Florida) we were able to disagree agreeably! This hasn't been the case in other parts of the country where separations of theologically conservative churches like our's from the PCUSA have often been accompanied by bitter strife and even litigation.

But why ECO? Why join a new Presbyterian denomination when there are already several good options for churches like us? This was a question the elders wrestled with, but in the end we decided the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of something new was too good to pass up. And perhaps most importantly several of our sister and daughter churches in South Florida were also headed to ECO.

ECO is a start-up, and as such can look with new eyes at the challenge of being a denomination in a post-denominational world, and of being missional Christians in a Western context that's increasingly post-Christian. ECO seeks to do this while holding fast to the essential tenets of our catholic and Reformed faith -- such as the authority of Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as "the sole path by which sinners become children of God" (quoting from ECO's statement of theological beliefs). I think of it as Presbyterianism 2.0.

ECO's mission statement is to grow and plant "flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ." In other words to create and nurture a healthy "ecosystem" which supports churches in carrying out the Great Commission. What might that look like? Quoting from Pastors John Crosby and Jim Singleton (two of the drafters of ECO's founding documents):

"[ECO] is intended to foster a new way of being the Church, just as traditional, mainline denominations rose to serve in their day. We aspire to reclaim a sense of covenanted biblical community, where unity is derived from a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ, rather than by structural mandate. Our theological beliefs and core values unite us and inform our daily ministry, as leaders of all generations are being developed to equip God's people to speak the gospel into a rapidly-changing world. Congregations will gather together not to debate process or policy, but to collaborate, share best practices, encourage a Jesus way of life, and spur one another on to love and good deeds."

Tragically the mainline Presbyterian Church has lost this vision of unity defined by God's Word and God's mission, instead settling for a forced institutional unity that Machen correctly predicted would lead to strife. If you're inspired by the vision of ECO why don't you consider joining us? There are now 8 ECO churches in South Florida from Ft. Pierce down to The Keys, and many more nationally. Most of all, pray that all of us in ECO would be empowered by God's Spirit to live into our vision for making disciples.

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