What Does a Future Merger of the ECO and the EPC Mean for the PCA?

With the possibility of realignment within American Presbyterianism, the PCA can once again, and with one voice, be the conservative, confessional, and complementarian Presbyterian Church in America.

But what does this mean for the PCA? Because of the recent exposure of the progressive vision by a few in the PCA, increasing numbers of pastors have been made aware and have begun the process of mobilizing a coordinated effort. If the aforementioned merger does occur—and I believe it will—progressives can exit slowly, having felt the pressure of a biblical resistance.

 

As the winds of progressive culture continue to pick up speed, evangelical denominations find themselves feeling the pressure of where to draw the line. History tells us that the mainline denominations, which were once evangelical in ethos, eroded under the pressure of Neo-Orthodoxy and the temptation of cultural credibility.

This Category Five has now reached the evangelical reformed world and the PCA, particularly in the form of last year’s Revoice Conference. This is in addition to the inclusion of un-ordained (at this point) female deacons and a St. Louis PCA Church’s participating in Faith for Justice— an organization that provides an ongoing teaching platform for a Transgendered Education and Advocacy Coordinator of the Missouri ACLU. One might wonder how this could be tolerated in the PCA, particularly in terms of a biblical sexual ethic, but creative parsing of sexual identity and personhood, cohabitation in the form of spiritual friendships; and promotion of conferences through the use of church facilities have muddied the waters for a direct response by many moderates.

My prayer is at this coming General Assembly, we will see an open and faithful rebuke to some of these very real fissures corroding confessional and biblical fidelity. But what if these churches continue down the path of imprudence?

I believe there are other options for progressives that will present themselves in the near future— and I don’t mean an exodus by conservatives in the PCA.

As a response to the ongoing debates and now full inclusion of LGBTQ+ membership and ordination in the PCUSA, a new denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians or ECO, was formed in 2012. This denomination quickly grew as many large PCUSA churches transitioned into its ranks. At the time, I was attending Fuller Theological Seminary in Houston, an extension established in response to the liberalism of the PCUSA seminary in Texas. However, it puzzled me that ECO retained the twelve confessions listed from the BCO of the PCUSA.

What has become clear is that this retention was simply a transitional stage as ECO moved further and further away from their former mainline roots into what is now a broader evangelical, uncompromisingly egalitarian, small “r” reformed denomination. In 2018, ECO voted to remove four of the aforementioned confessions, limiting their current standards to Westminster, Heidelberg and the Barmen Declaration. Though ECO explicitly regards these as “not binding,” they are considered guiding documents. The only binding document is presented in a statement of faith called the “Essential Tenants.”

In addition to ECO, and positioned to the Left of the PCA, is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Compared to ECO, the EPC retains the Westminster Standards, yet they also set aside a fundamental document, “The Essentials of our Faith.” While all but two of the EPC’s presbyteries allow for female Teaching Elders, there are particular congregations within those bounds that retain both female Ruling Elders and Deaconesses.

Why the comparison of confessional documents of denominations outside of the PCA? It is no secret that the history of American Presbyterianism looks like a spaghetti junction of division and realignment. A future merger of ECO and the EPC will provide a broader evangelical home for progressives in the PCA. Some such as City Church, Houston, have already made the exit based on the egalitarian issue. Others like Christ Presbyterian Church in Houston, one of the largest churches in the EPC, voted last month to enter the PCA.

Both ECO and the EPC are beginning to look even more like the same denomination. In the current culture creep, larger denominations will provide both resources and a louder voice to whatever convictions they adhere. At current size both ECO and the EPC combined, would immediately make for a denomination just over half the size of the PCA. I believe the seeds of realignment have been planted and the trees of ECO and the EPC are beginning even now to produce similar looking fruit in the form of a New School, egalitarian, missional and culturally accommodating, small “r” reformed church.

But what does this mean for the PCA? Because of the recent exposure of the progressive vision by a few in the PCA, increasing numbers of pastors have been made aware and have begun the process of mobilizing a coordinated effort. If the aforementioned merger does occur—and I believe it will—progressives can exit slowly, having felt the pressure of a biblical resistance. Thus the PCA can wholeheartedly refocus on the mission of the church without the distraction of a Revoice or other current compromises. In turn, we will once again, and with one voice, be the conservative, confessional, and complementarian Presbyterian Church in America.

John Bennett is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Minister of Youth and Families at Christ PCA in New Braunfels, Texas. This article is used with permission.