Evangelical Presbyterian Church (United States)
|Evangelical Presbyterian Church (United States)|
|Associations||World Communion of Reformed Churches, World Reformed Fellowship|
|Separated from||United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) later the PC(USA)|
|Congregations||more than 590 (as of September 2016)|
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) is an American church body holding to presbyterian governance and Reformed theology, expressed in an orthodox, conservative vein. The motto of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is "In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity; Truth In Love." The Office of the General Assembly is in Orlando, Florida.
The EPC began as a result of prayer meetings in 1980 and 1981 by pastors and elders increasingly alienated by liberalism in the "northern" branch of Presbyterianism (the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., a predecessor of the Presbyterian Church USA). Two cases served as important catalysts in their separation: the Kenyon Case of 1975 and the Kaseman Case of 1981. Winn Kenyon was a seminary graduate who in good conscience declared that he would refuse to participate in the ordination of a woman, although he affirmed that he would willingly serve in a pastorate with ordained women on the staff. Though he had been ordained by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, in 1975 the Permanent Judicial Commission of the UPCUSA General Assembly overturned Kenyon's ordination because accepting women's ordination was "an explicit constitutional provision." Six years later, a Maryland presbytery received Mansfield Kaseman, a United Church of Christ minister who denied the divinity of Jesus, into its membership.
The first general assembly of the church met at Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in suburban Detroit, Michigan in late 1981, drafting a list of essential beliefs. This list was intentionally short in order to help preserve the unity of the church around the essentials of the faith in theology, church government, and evangelism.
At its foundation, the EPC adopted a list of essential beliefs, "The Essentials of Our Faith," to state what the EPC views as the sine qua non of Evangelical Christianity (see below), in part to seek to guarantee that it would not succumb to the theological problems that had plagued its parent denominations during the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. "The Essentials" is a fuller version of the "Five Fundamentals" that many PCUSA ministers had rejected in the "Auburn Affirmation" of 1923. Originally titled "The Fundamentals of Our Faith," the name was changed to avoid the negative connotations that the term "fundamentalism" had gained. This document has served to assure that the EPC has always kept what is of primary importance for all evangelical Christians (namely the Gospel, or Good News about Jesus), as well as to maintain the irenic orthodoxy that has always been the hallmark of the denomination. (See "Ethos," below.)
In the more than thirty years of its existence, the EPC has become active as a missional church, through church planting in the United States as well as in a variety of foreign fields, particularly in the 10/40 Window. One significant step was the incorporation of the St. Andrews Presbytery (Argentina) as one of its presbyteries. This presbytery was released to independence as the national St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Argentina after many years of mutual cooperation and benefit.
As of the 2007 General Assembly, the EPC has created a temporary, non-geographic "New Wineskins Presbytery" (NWEPC) to provide a home for churches associated with the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) that are seeking to find a new denominational home after finding that their current home in the PC(USA) is no longer suitable to them theologically, organizationally, or missionally. The New Wineskins Presbytery was dissolved in 2011, as its mission was completed.
Jeff Jeremiah, the stated clerk, announced at the 2012 General Assembly, held at the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that the number of EPC congregations had increased from 182 in 2007 to 364 in 2012, exactly doubling in number. The number of congregations had further increased to more than 590 by September 2016.
The church has an official seven point statement of the "Essentials Of Our Faith".
These Essentials are set forth in greater detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
The EPC has also adopted an explanation of the relationship between the "Essentials of Our Faith" and the Westminster Standards.
Place in American Presbyterianism
As its name suggests, the EPC is an evangelical denomination. It associates mainly with Reformed bodies holding similar or identical beliefs regarding Christology, ecclesiology, and ethical/moral stances. As with practically all orthodox Presbyterian bodies, the EPC is committed to Biblical interpretation governed by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The EPC is member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
Being wholly within the mainstream of Reformed, Westminsterian orthodoxy, the EPC is more conservative than the PC(USA) on matters such as theology and personal behavior, yet is more moderate than the major conservative Presbyterian denominations in the United States—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The EPC's middling stance is similar to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which was formed in 2012 from churches leaving the PC(USA). The EPC's ethos (summarized in its motto) allows a greater degree of freedom in areas deemed to be non-essential to Reformed theology than the PCA, ARP and OPC.
Women's ordination and charismatic movement
Two examples of the EPC's middling position within American Presbyterianism are women's ordination and the charismatic movement. The EPC considers the ordination of women to be a non-essential matter which is left up to each ordaining body (e.g., each local church session determines if women can serve as elders and deacons; each local presbytery determines if women can serve as ministers). Several EPC churches have female deacons and elders, but very few churches are led by a woman as solo or senior pastor. By comparison, the PC(USA) and ECO ordain and have women ministers; the ARP allows women to be ordained as deacons but not as ministers or elders; the PCA does not formally ordain women but a number of churches have non-ordained women deacons and deaconesses; and the OPC does not ordain women.
The EPC is far more tolerant of the charismatic movement than other conservative Presbyterian bodies; some of the more prominent charismatic Presbyterian churches in America are members of the EPC.
The EPC has been described as the modern-day version of New School Presbyterianism, while the PCA, ARP and OPC are essentially the modern-day equivalent of Old School Presbyterianism. The way that this is expressed is in the motto of the denomination: "In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity. Truth in Love." Functionally, this works out with a three-tiered approach to theological issues. These may be thought of as "A," "B," and "C" issues.
"A" issues are those which have to do with the "Essentials of Our Faith." This is a summary of those issues which are foundational to Christian faith. In the EPC, there is no allowance for disagreement among church officers (ministers, elders, and deacons) on these issues. Indeed, it is expected that all communicant members will affirm these tenets of the faith.
"B" issues are those which are essential to the Reformed understanding of the faith, such as the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism," Covenant Theology, Presbyterian government, etc. The definition of "B" issues for the EPC is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Westminster Larger Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism. As these issues aren't as foundational as the Essentials of Our Faith, the EPC allows ministers, elders, and deacons to state exceptions to the Westminster Standards, so long as these exceptions do not violate the system of doctrine contained therein. While non-ordained members aren't expected to adhere to the Westminster Standards, it is understood that the teaching position of the EPC is found in the Westminster Standards.
Finally, "C" issues are those on which Reformed, orthodox Christians can disagree, and which do not violate the system of doctrine of the EPC. As stated above, this would include the issues of women's ordination and the charismatic movement, as well as issues such as eschatology (views on the End times), worship preferences, liturgy, etc.
- "Contact Us". epc.org. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
- Evangelical Presbyterian Church > History
- "Locate a Church". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
- Essentials Of Our Faith
- www.epc.org Essentials of Our Faith
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2015.
- Fortson, S. Donald, The Presbyterian Creed: A Confessional Tradition in America, 17291870, Paternoster Press, 2008.