What is the Presbyterian Church (USA), and what do they believe?Question: "What is the Presbyterian Church (USA), and what do they believe?"
Answer: The Presbyterian Church (USA), or PC(USA), is a mainline denomination based in Louisville, Kentucky. With about 2 million members, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is one of the largest denominations in the U.S. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the result of a 1983 merger of two theologically liberal churches: the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is distinct from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), and it’s important not to confuse the denominations, since they represent very different views of Scripture, morality, and politics.
All Presbyterian churches, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), have their roots in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, specifically the work of John Knox in Scotland, who studied under Calvin. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) looks to two books for guidance: the Bible and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The constitution is comprised of the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions.
In the early 20th century, Presbyterians drafted the Six Great Ends of the Church. These appear in the Book of Order (F-1.0304):
1) The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
2) The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
3) The maintenance of divine worship
4) The preservation of the truth
5) The promotion of social righteousness
6) The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
Like other Presbyterian churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is governed by sessions, presbyteries, and synods. Local congregations elect a board called the session comprised of members who serve three-year terms. A non-voting senior minister moderates the session. Congregations also elect presbyters who form a presbytery to oversee regional groups of local churches. Presbyteries are then governed by synods, and all the synods together form the General Assembly. The publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is Westminster John Knox Press. The denomination is also associated with over 50 schools and universities.
Unfortunately, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has slipped from the firm theological foundation of John Knox. According to its own study, only 48 percent of Presbyterian Church (USA) elders claimed to have any type of conversion experience; 45 percent of pastors disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved” (another 19 percent were unsure); and 45 percent of “specialized clergy” self-described as “liberal” or “very liberal” (Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2005: Findings from the Initial Survey of the 2006–2008, published by the Presbyterian Panel, a ministry of the General Assembly Council, Presbyterian Church (USA), www.pcusa.org/research/panel, accessed 9/1/2016).
In addition to the watering down of the gospel, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is now an open advocate of homosexuality and gay marriage. In 2011 the general assembly began allowing the ordination of homosexual clergy. In 2014, they changed the definition of marriage in the Book of Order from the union of “a man and a woman” to “two people.” In 2015 the denomination conducted a joint ordination of a “married” lesbian couple.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is committed to ecumenism: at the June 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, a Muslim offered a prayer to Allah during the opening plenary session. The Presbyterian Church (USA) also takes a liberal stand on abortion, stating that “the considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision” (from “What We Believe: Abortion Issues,” www.presbyterianmission.org/blog/abortion-issues-2/, accessed 9/1/2016).
Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has seen a decline in membership as hundreds of its churches have left the denomination in protest over the theological and social liberalism overrunning the church. According to the Presbyterian Lay Committee, from 2005 through 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost about 700,000 members (www.layman.org/pcusa-continues-membership-decline-92433-members-gone-in-2014/, accessed 9/1/2016).
The world may applaud the Presbyterian Church (USA) for its diversity, progressivism, and open-mindedness. But Christians would do well to remember that we are not here to be applauded by the world. We’re here to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16) and “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).
Recommended Resources: Complete Guide to Christian Denominations: Understanding the History, Beliefs, and Differences by Ron Rhodes
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What is the Presbyterian Church (USA), and what do they believe?