The First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, Miss. became the fourth church to leave the Presbyterian Church USA over the issue on maintaining spiritual purity. The call to separate, which comes only 2 months before the annual meeting of the PCUSA governing body in Richmond VA, reflects the ongoing tension within the denomination between the evangelicals who desire spiritual purity and liberals who seek unity in diversity.
Three other congregations, Circleville in Circleville, N.Y., Rivermont in Lynchburg, Va., and Norcrest in Findlay, Ohio also left the PCUSA and decided to affiliate themselves with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The First Presbyterian Church voted 75-1 to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America. All four churches were part of the Confessing Movement within the PCUSA, which is the network of reformed churches in the denomination that denounce the ordination of homosexuals and the blessings of same sex marriages.
The main reason given by the congregants of First Church was that the Presbytery of St. Andrews, in which it takes part, could not find an evangelical pastor in the period of two years of negotiations between the Church and the presbytery. The congregants also said they were appalled by the PCUSA’s national leaders’ actions and decisions concerning the approval of partial-birth abortion and ordination of homosexual clergy.
The Charleston church will now align themselves with the evangelical Presbyterian Church of America – a group that broke off from the mainline Presbyterian Church several decades ago. The PCA began with 260 congregations with a combined membership of about 41,000; now, 32 years later, the PCA has some 400,000 members with more than 1,400 congregations.
The other evangelical reformed denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, is also another breakaway denomination from the mainline Presbyterian Church. What began in 1981 as twelve congregations has now 191 congregations and 75,000 members.
The main difference between the two mainline denominations is that EPC allows the ordination of women as ministers, elders and deacons while the PCA has a constitutional prohibition against women as church officers.