I am sitting, as I write this, in the presbytery meeting of the Presbytery of the Midwest, Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Once again, Wayne and I are impressed with the openness of the people in the presbytery. We are doubly impressed with their knowledge and use of Scripture. We rejoiced in their heart-felt prayers.
This morning we've been observing the examination of candidates for ministry. Unlike our previous experiences, this denomination does a rigorous examination on the floor of presbytery. Candidates must answer specific questions from and about Scripture. One candidate was asked to give a detailed outline (verbally, without notes) of the Gospel of Matthew (someone else asked him to outline the book of Revelation). Another candidate was asked to respond with theological depth on points from the Westminster confession. Each candidate was asked questions of doctrine and where they, if they did, disagreed with any point. As long as disagreement was not on one of the essentials, that disagreement was met with grace.
I was particularly impressed by the fact that the candidates answered all questions of doctrine with supporting Scriptures (from memory). Each one of them had not only done their homework, but had taken to heart Reformed teaching and, most importantly, the Bible.
Last night we heard the candidates preach in a wonderful worship service. The music was contemporary, thoughful, and Christ-centered. Even though I prefer traditional worship, I felt completely at ease and enjoyed the presence of God therein. We also appreciated the genuine fellowship and acceptance of us at this meeting.
We also heard some of the hurt that congregations like ours have encountered. Two churches besides us were there to observe as part of our process of seeking admission to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The other two churches were/are in the system, having asked for dismissal, as opposed to our action of disaffiliation. They both had horror stories of how their churches were treated in this process. Both of their presbyteries had, verbally and in writing, clamed to desire an amicable process, but it didn't turn out that way.
In one church's case, shortly after they'd asked for dismissal the presbytery formed an administrative commission and informed the congregation that they were officially "in schism." The net result of this was the presbytery taking control of the church.
The other congregation told a different story. What was unique to their story was that the presbytery slowed down the process so much that members who opposed staying in the PCUSA left for non-denominational churches in frustration. One of their elders told me that they were in negotiation for 20 months, thee weeks, and fourteen hours. They met witht the presbytery negotiation team every three weeks. Early on they felt that they had a fair offer and took it back to the congregation for approval. This turned out to be a pattern because, each time when they returned, the presbytrery added a condition to the deal that was unacceptable. As the process strung out, members, particularly the younger ones, simply left.
Having heard these sad stories, though, there was a balance from the joy they felt at joining with a denomination that is not only more gracious, but also firmly centered and set upon the Word of God.
Wayne and I will be examined for potential membership on October 31. There will be further meetings with our session and pastors in the next couple of months. The earliest we could be admitted would be in January. It is more likely that we will be admitted in April. Both the EPC and the Kirk continue the process of mutual examination until then.
Keep praying--keep the faith,