In 2011, the Presbyterian Church USA, the largest mainline branch of Presbyterianism, deleted the phrases “fidelity in marriage” and “chastity in singleness” from the ordination standards in its Book of Order.
In 2012 and 2013, a number of churches left the denomination, including four churches in the Lake Norman area: Bethel Presbyterian in Cornelius, Huntersville Presbyterian, as well as Centre Presbyterian and Lake Norman Fellowship in Mooresville.
“The central issue was the authority and inspiration of the scriptures,” said Robert Howard, senior pastor of Centre Presbyterian. “Theologically, the PCUSA’s governing bodies were progressively leaving the teaching of the scriptures and the confessions for more ‘modern’ and ‘inclusive’ interpretations.”
According to the PCUSA’s Office of the General Assembly, 110 churches around the country left the branch in 2012 to affiliate with other denominations.
Bethel and Huntersville Presbyterian churches have joined the ECO, a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which is a denomination that began in January 2012.
ECO reports 62 member churches to date, all of which originated from the PCUSA.
ECO distinctives include submission to the authority of scripture and an egalitarian view of women. As its name suggests, the denomination is also evangelical.
“Our goal by 2018,” according to ECO’s website, “is to baptize more than we bury.”
Centre Presbyterian and Lake Norman Fellowship have joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination that began in 1981.
Ed McCallum, the assistant stated clerk of the EPC, said 78 PCUSA churches joined the EPC in 2012, and from 2011 until now, the total is 138.
The EPC motto is “In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity.” An essential in the EPC is the infallibility of scripture; some non-essentials, that vary from church to church, are the ordination of women and the practice of charismatic gifts.
Departure from the PCUSA follows procedures that differ among local presbyteries.
The Layman Online reports that for some churches and their presbyteries, disagreements over departure terms have led to lawsuits.
The Charlotte Presbytery, in contrast, gave “gracious dismissals” to Bethel and Huntersville Presbyterian churches, according to The Layman Online.
For Huntersville Presbyterian, the dismissal included a payment of $108,000 over five years, to compensate for the presbytery’s loss of income and property; the figure correlates to the 82 percent congregational vote in favor of departure.
Bethel’s senior pastor Bill Cain said that because his church had a 96 percent majority vote, they did not have to make any payments to the Charlotte Presbytery.
Howard, of Centre, said his church settled with the Salem Presbytery on a departure amount representing $45/active member, which added up to $9,000.
“We have wonderful friends in the PCUSA,” Cain said, “and we are grateful for these relationships, but God has called us to the mission of ECO.”