With a goal of fostering “flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of more than 500 theologically conservative congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has unveiled a new “denominational entity”: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). The official unveiling occurred at a Jan. 18-20 Covenanting Conference in Orlando, Fla.
The new entity will work with like-minded congregations that decide to remain part of the PC(USA) or choose to cut ties with the older denomination.
“The Fellowship offers three different options for affiliation so congregations can pursue what best honors their ministry context,” according to a news release (PDF) from the Fellowship of Presbyterians.
“The options are: affiliate with the Fellowship as a ministry association (involves no change in status with the PC(USA)); pursue a union membership with the PC(USA) and ECO; and join ECO as full members (requiring dismissal from the PC(USA)),” the release said.
In an address introducing ECO, the Rev. John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, said the new denomination was created to help local churches become more effective in making disciples.
You all know what has been going on in mainline denominations, including our own — shrinking memberships and fading churches and aging clergy and lessening evangelism and a preoccupation with survival and internal strife and external irrelevance.
And it is not just theological drift….
[But w]hat if God were to raise up a movement? What if [the] torch for a thoughtful, reflective, urgent, egalitarian, globally active, culturally engaged, Jesus-centered, evangelical faith [were to be] wed with courageous, innovative, bold, risk-taking, bold entrepreneurial ministry leadership? And the torch of this faith were to burn more brightly in this generation than in the last one?
We’re not talking about a safe, easy, reassuring step from one denomination to another as a way of expressing denominational displeasure….
Purity by separation has been tried before. If the new entity that we talking about is only that, it will just deteriorate a little more slowly….
[But i]magine God were to launch a movement of Spirit-led, Jesus-centered churches where pastors and leaders took seriously the biblical injunction to become teachers of the nations, so that our world and culture could hear in Him that there is such a thing as moral and spiritual knowledge that can guide human lives….
Imagine that the claims of Jesus were to receive a fresh hearing our day because they were being expressed in thoughtful, winsome, non-churchy, literate ways by Jesus followers who had wrestled and studied and prayed, and sought to follow Jesus with all of their hearts….
Imagine a movement where church meetings and denominational meetings never waste anybody’s time…. Imagine a movement that when leaders gather together, it is to learn and to receive vision and to mentor…and to be accountable and to encourage one another….
Imagine that when leaders get together they talk about things like: How do you reach people who don’t know Jesus so they can get to know Jesus? How can you worship better? How can you help the under-resourced people more effectively? How do you make disciples? How do you do justice?….
Can God not do that? Has the Holy Spirit lost His power?
As we…have talked and prayed about a new denominational entity, the idea, the prayer was that it be not just a denominational alternative — [but] that there might be a structure that could be a vehicle and a servant of a movement….
The job of a denomination is the serve the local church, not the other way around…. And the idea is…real simple: to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Because the church really has one job — to make disciples, followers, of Jesus.
Streaming video of Mr. Ortberg’s full address is below. A downloadable mp3 audio file is here (18 MB).