(RNS) Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving.

Well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. Photo courtesy of Zondervan

Well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. Photo courtesy of Zondervan


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Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church, with about 4,000 members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

“This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning. There’s a lot yet to come of what Dallas Willard called the unique life of spiritual adventure in living with God daily — entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought, for ourselves, and for us as a church,” Ortberg wrote.

A Menlo Park spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.

The church voted to join a newer denomination called ECO, A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which has attracted 115 other Presbyterian churches since it started in 2012. In its rationale for leaving, Menlo Park cited differences in identity, mission, governance and owning its property.

“Surprisingly, there are many PC(USA)-ordained pastors who do not believe, for example, in the deity of Christ or in salvation through faith in Christ,” the rationale states, citing a 2011 PCUSA survey that suggested 41 percent agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local Presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.

The move comes shortly after a prominent Texas congregation narrowly voted to remain with the denomination. A majority of members at First Presbyterian Church of Houston voted to join the ECO, but the vote fell short of a required two-thirds majority by 36 votes. The church is the seventh largest in the denomination, with more than 4,000 members.

Last year, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, another Texas megachurch of about 4,000 members, voted to leave the PCUSA for ECO, and it remains in a property dispute with the PCUSA.

While not cited in Menlo Park’s key reasons for leaving the denomination, differences over sexuality have been a key issue for many departing congregations. The PCUSA’s General Assembly in 2012 upheld the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, a decision that is expected come up again during this summer’s assembly. In 2010, the denomination moved to drop its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian ministers.

The PCUSA has 1.8 million members, losing an average of 60,000 per year, according to the denomination. A spokeswoman at PCUSA headquarters in Louisville, Ky., said she would be unavailable to comment before RNS deadline.

KRE/MG END BAILEY

 

52 Comments

  1. I don’t know Calbvinist teaching much, but wouldn’t predestination mean that you might answer no to “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”?

    • Predestination is the Protestant answer to the Catholic “Natural Law”. Meaning it is essentially a nonsense term for whatever the clergy/theologian wants it to mean to fit the given circumstances.

    • The question isn’t really used as a theologically deep or nuanced one. It is just a litmus-test. To be accepted as a conservative, one has to believe in exclusivity of salvation in Jesus. Yes, a Calvinist could say that God would elect whomever God elects for salvation, regardless of what they say they believe, but the question isn’t meant to go that far. It is just a boundary-marker.

      • That would be incorrect. “Predestination” as you refer, in the reformed tradition, would indicate those who were elected before the beginning of time to know the saving power of God in Jesus. Not to be saved independent of Jesus. Rather to be clothed in the rightiousness of Christ despite being unrighteousness. “Predestination or election” presupposes that none of the work of salvation was done by the individual I.e….I made the salvific choice to chose God. But rather would suggest that The good work of salvation belongs to God alone through the work of the cross.
        Christian traditions that stress human free will tend to give more credit to the individual for their own salvation and in my humble opinion strip God of the glory deserved for the work of attainment in Christ.

  2. I’m curious as to why the ECO has been established. If conservative Presbyterians are disgruntled by the theological liberalism in the PCUSA, why don’t they join the PCA? Can someone shed some light on this?

    • A lot of them do join the PCA, especially if they agree that ordaining women should be optional. There is also the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The ECO seems to have been started as an extra-denominational organization that would cover the various kinds of congregations that are leaving the PCUSA. At this point, it’s a buyer’s market for break-away denominations, so I’m sure part of it is just which one makes the best home.

    • ECO was formed to enable a much easier transition for PCUSA congregations who no longer believed they could, in good conscience, remain in the PCSUA. ECO is basically the PCUSA with more emphasis to actually adhering to the confessional and biblical standards that the PCUSA has. The EPC would be the other most obvious choice (and hundreds of congregations are coming into the EPC), but the ordination of women is left up to the presbyteries (although, in the EPC book of order there is an allowance for congregations who want to call women as teaching elders to join the adjacent presbytery if their current presbytery won’t ordain women as teaching elders). PCA is much more conservative and strict in their confessional standards, and the OPC is even further conservative. So ECO remains the most natural fit for most churches, particularly since the whole structure was developed through the collaboration of numerous like-minded PCUSA elders and churches.

        • A value of 260 churches is referred to as hundreds according to statistics and mathematics!! You may want to go back to school before you thrash on a person’s comments because you don’t agree with what they said.

          Sincerely, someone who knows what they’re talking about.

          • The OP said that “hundreds of congregations are _coming into_ the EPC” which seems like an exaggeration unless they currently have a lot in process of coming in. Which could be the case.

        • I was recently at an EPC conference in Denver and the stated clerk who spoke said that, with all the churches currently in transition, that the number by the end of 2014 will be over 500.

          • Edward, Lewis did not ‘open the door to universalism’ in The Last Battle. What he suggested was that a person can be following Christ all his life without knowing it, which is not at all the same thing.

            Yes, Lewis was wrong in some points. However, that does not mean we can’t learn from his insights.

  3. Doug Lawrence

    I believe that my friend and former MPPC colleague, John Ortberg, would agree that it is not “his” church, but, rather, “His” church.

    I understand that using the names of well-known personalities encourages readership of an article, but in a church in which Jesus Christ is viewed as head, it might be a distraction.

    I don’t know that this is a better headline, but it is equally, and perhaps more accurately, descriptive…

    “The church John Ortberg pastors votes to leave the PCUSA at a cost of more than 8 million dollars!”

  4. March 9, 2014

    One wonders why the PCUSA would take 8.89 from a local Congregation that wishes to disassociate itself fromn the PCUSA. The money clearly was raised and belongs in Menlo Park. The PCUSA is, apparently, merely interested in enhancing the coffers of its headquarters in Kentucky. What did Christ do with the money changers?

    • Think of it as a divorce in which one of the partners has fallen in love with someone else and wants to leave.

      Over the years, the Presbytery has provided all kinds of services, including guarantees on all borrowed monies, overseeing the pastors and seeing to it that irregularities not occur. We are a connectional church with lots of checks and balances built in.

      Now in a divorce, Menlo Park pays to gain property held in trust for the Presbyterian Church; it also pays ahead, if you will, for the sake of the larger mission of the Presbyterian Churches in that area (the Presbytery).

      It’s the fair and right thing to do.

      Though I believe saddling the church with this enormous payout will burden the church for a long time. When Ortberg came to Menlo Park from Willow Creek, I was grateful, but it wasn’t long before his interests were revealed – to join with those of the Lay Committee and others who’ve wanted to deconstructed the PCUSA in the hopes of finding the ever-elusive “purity” at the expense of unity.

      Menlo Park, and others like it, has mixed motives: 1) belief that association with PCUSA is a handicap; 2) refusal to receive gays and lesbians as full-fledged human beings and Christians; 3) dreams of theological purity; 4) power – nothing like being a big fish in a small pond; 5) nothing like a divorce from the “bad guys” to energize a congregation, and 6) memories of the “Angela Davis Affair,” hatred of Communism and a deep allegiance to a Capitalist Free Market economy (read GOP).

      The payout will enable the Presbytery to continue its ministries, funding new church-developments, assisting congregations in transition and financing grants to area projects.

  5. “The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local Presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.”

    Is there a dis-connect or confusion on the part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church? Disinvesting from companies who contribute to violent oppression is not a distraction from our core mission in Christ. One cannot decry the lack of Christ’s authority in our denomination and then in the next breath disclaim the consequence of that authority, which prevents others, as Ortberg says, from “entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought”. The Presbytery of San Francisco affirmed that we cannot be financially complicit in the discrimination and death of others as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar supply the Israeli military with technology supportive of the occupation and ethnic cleansing of a people. I trust that Menlo would affirm our core mission is to care more about human rights than corporations, integrity more than profits and the imprisonment of children over personal riches.

    • You should learn more about Israel’s history and the severe oppression they suffered at the hands of ALL their Muslim neighbors- Jordan, Egypt, Syria, etc. I agree the Palestinians have suffered, but the villain is not Israel. They have a right to defend themselves from enemies, and they have real enemies in the Gaza and West Bank. Plus, the territory ‘given’ to them by the UN charter was overwhelmingly owned by Jews. One must see the situation from the beginning, not just as the current liberal press paints it. If the Palestinians/Arabs were innocent, why won’t they accept Israel’s right to exist?

  6. It’s been said, but believing in “salvation through faith in Christ” and agreeing with the statement “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved” are not necessarily the same thing.

  7. I believe there’s nothing wrong with their move. It’s like going for a company who doesn’t provide the best customer support for you – just leave. It’s their prerogative and I’m sure they’ve thought about their decision over and over again.

  1. […] Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif., one of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s largest congregations, made the choice despite facing a $8.89 million cost for the church’s property and membership fees, Religion News Service reported. […]

  2. […] Arguing over trifles while the world burns: Megachurch pays millions to leave nation’s biggest Presbyterian denomination – major rift over ‘Who Jesus is’ (sott.net) A California megachurch has voted to officially leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a Christian denomination that is the largest in the nation.Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif., one of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s largest congregations, made the choice despite facing a $8.89 million cost for the church’s property and membership fees, Religion News Service reported. […]

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