Eight leaders urge congregations to rethink leaving the PC(USA)

PC(USA) “has not turned its back on … Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."

January 12, 2012


One week before a group of dissident churches meets to create a new denomination, eight Presbyterians, including Ruling Elder Cynthia Bolbach and Teaching Elder Landon Whitsitt, the moderator and vice-moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have issued a letter and video expressing their hope in the future of the denomination.

The Fellowship of Presbyterians is to convene a “Covenanting Conference” in Orlando Jan. 18. The group has announced its intention to create “a new Reformed body” – essentially, a new denomination – to which some congregations currently in the PC(USA) plan to move.

The writers ― five teaching elders and three ruling elders ― met in Chicago Jan. 2-3. In the letter posted on a new blog, acknowledge that the PC(USA) is “feeling the birthpangs of a new church as it is being reformed by the Holy Spirit.”

But they contend that the PC(USA) “has not turned its back on proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."

They also encourage those whose congregations are considering pulling back from the PC(USA) to “insist that your leaders re-expose you to the voices of fellow Presbyterians who are resolute in their intentions to stay.”

The full text of the letter and a link to the video:

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We all know that our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is undergoing complex changes as countless people are seeking to follow God’s will as they understand it. Recent votes on ordination standards and the revision of the Form of Government have brought a welcome change to some Presbyterians, but to others these changes have felt like a betrayal. We eight elders – whose theological and missional commitments reflect a wide range of the denomination – are writing to those struggling with the recent votes. Our message to you, simply, is to tell you that we love you and want to continue to serve Christ together with you in this part of the body of Christ.

On January 2-3, we gathered together to reflect on these times. The lectionary passage for that day was Eph. 4:1-16, the first part of which calls us to “make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit within the bond of peace…” That unity and that peace are suffering strain.

In a few days some 1,700 Presbyterians will be gathering in Orlando, Florida, for the purpose of exploring their denominational future. Some will be representing churches planning to pull out of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to form the nucleus of a new denominational expression, provisionally called the “New Reformed Body.” Most have not formed their future plans but are contemplating some change, either to follow the path into the NRB, or to try to co-affiliate with the NRB and PC(USA), or to explore alternative arrangements within the PC(USA), such as becoming an affinity network under the banner, “Fellowship of Presbyterians.” We also know of several dozen other churches that have initiated steps to transfer from the PC(USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or another denomination.

We know that those contemplating the possibility of leaving are bathing the decision in prayer, and are genuinely seeking to discern God’s will in this.

However, we believe with all our hearts that perception is not reality, that the PC(USA) has not left its moorings, its commitment to proclaim the living Word of God – Jesus Christ – as revealed in the written word of God, holy Scripture. We do believe that the varying parties differ not over their belief in the Gospel but over how to apply its words of grace in particular ways.

Ephesians also reminds us that God’s work is, in part, to continue to equip the church to build itself up into maturity. We see God doing that work in specific ways through this denomination. The PC(USA) is deeply missional. And it is elevating and equipping the calling to evangelize the world. The past General Assembly reaffirmed the commitment to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide,” and the upcoming GA will take up the vision to plant 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next 10 years. The General Assembly Mission Council staff, such as those in the Church Growth and Transformation department, are equipping Presbyterians to give witness to the Gospel, to turn around churches and to turn shrinking churches into growing ones. As Tom Taylor, the California pastor from evangelical circles who now serves as President of the

Presbyterian Foundation often affirms, "Planting and growing congregations, proclaiming the gospel effectively, building up the church - these are at the core of who we are as Presbyterians.

In the past five years, our denominational offices have recruited the experience, wisdom and witness of Presbyterians who support these values in unprecedented ways."

The PC(USA) simply has not turned its back on proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

If you are a part of a congregation that is contemplating a move away from regular participation in the PC(USA), please insist that your leaders re-expose you to the voices of fellow Presbyterians who are resolute in their intentions to stay. Do not allow one-sided presentations to be all you consider as you seek to discern God’s call to you and your congregation. At times like this, the grass surely can look greener beyond the fence and the desire to jump to that side may feel compelling, but to extend the overused cliché, the grass over there has its own problems, and the grass over here may be regenerating in ways you haven’t noticed, and the process of jumping the fence brings some perils not obvious before taking the leap. The law of unintended consequences inevitably brings problems – many of which could have been foreseen by learning from the history we ignore at our peril. Jesus did tell us, after all, to count the cost before taking action.

Is the PC(USA) undergoing a season of change? For certain. We are feeling the birthpangs of a new church as it is being reformed by the Holy Spirit. But those changes are much broader than the divisive debates of recent years. The desire to discern what missional actually means “on the ground,” to re-invigorate congregations losing momentum and to make a real life-giving difference in our communities is happening across the whole denomination. We are convinced that that reformation is strengthened by reinvesting ourselves and all of our congregations – and weakened by the departure of any.

We understand that it’s difficult not knowing exactly where we’re going to end up. But the road we are on, in seeking to proclaim God’s Word to a 21st century culture, is not only exciting but transformative.

Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ is facing a complex, turbulent time. Yes, some of us are applauding the changes while others are grieving them. But the eight of us together share a genuine hope for the future of the PC(USA). In fact, we also have prepared a video in which we offer a personal witnesses to that hope. You can view it at HopeForThePCUSA.blogspot.com. We would love to hear from you the signs of hope you are seeing in the church, too; we invite you to share those hopes on that website.

We are confident that these hopes are sure – and will not disappoint – because they are based on the resurrection of Christ who has called us into this “one hope,” even to be “one body and of one spirit.”

The letter is signed “Faithfully in Christ” by Bolbach, who is an elder at First Presbyterian Church, Arlington, Va.; the Rev. Theresa Cho, pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church, San Francisco; Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri, First Spanish Presbyterian Church, Miami; the Rev. Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook; Ruling Elder Julie Henderson, First Presbyterian Church, Brighton, Colo.; the Rev. Stan Ott of the Vital Churches Institute, Oak Hill, Va.; the Rev. Byron Wade, pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, N.C., and vice-moderator of the 218th General Assembly; and Whitsitt, who is synod executive for the Synod of Mid-America. (Organizations listed for identification purposes only.)


  1. Why did and does the PUSA feel and push to compell itself to vote positions , overtures, resolutions (call them what you wish) on the tough, partisan, devisive issues being fought in the open society and its culture and country. What the church could have brought were non voting discussions and perhaps ways to mission those lwho have struggled or are struggling with the issues which somehow separate . Formal statements of a winning kind seem the business of another governing body. The church has a higher responsibility of helping individuals learn to handle and reach for the best answer for them and their religious self. And worse yet, what was the gain in God's message to all for the National statement of the Presbyterians USA. Perhaps there were cheers for a political party...just look at that gain. And, does anyone suppose they go to work to tithe for something they aren't supporting? Certainly hot issues bring people to the GA. It gets great attendance. Erroneously a majority of one destroys . Costly limited success. Has God won anything. Just watch the extent the winners of one try to take what the disheartened had built. Things finally fall in line with "Progress" . What progress, whose progress?

    by Joan

    November 22, 2015

  2. I agree with Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Devine. PC (USA) is "gone" off the cliff. Preaching the social gospel from the morning newspaper rather than scripture, ignoring Biblical teaching on homosexuality, and ordaining women. United "in the love of Christ" means standing against sins he died for, Barbara, and standing for the inspired word of God. PCUSA is the Titanic; PCA is growing.

    by Glenn Dowling

    September 23, 2013

  3. Problems with the Presbyterian? The have forgotten the mission which is to save people from themselves and teach and lead them salvation. Now the PCUSA is rewriting the rules without concern to the bible so they can make non-christens happy yet give no thought to the 1,000's they are pushing out the door. It is sad to see the end...I to many mergers I guess.

    by Rick Daniels

    October 5, 2012

  4. As a former elder of a PCUSA church that has recently voted unanimously to leave the denomination, I can only say "why did it take us so long?" The PCUSA has become the "religious wing" of the Democratic Party. Their pro-abortion positions is more than enough reason to let them go - there is no reconciling the position of the PCUSA with Jer 1:5 "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee ..."

    by bob

    April 22, 2012

  5. However, we believe with all our hearts that perception is not reality, that the PC(USA) has not left its moorings, its commitment to proclaim the living Word of God – Jesus Christ – as revealed in the written word of God, holy Scripture. We do believe that the varying parties differ not over their belief in the Gospel but over how to apply its words of grace in particular ways. There is only one way to apply scripture. It's not a cut and paste document. But the problem in the PCUSA church is that you have done this. You've labeled the Bible a "guide" Yet, when you seek to keep evangelical churches amongst your ranks you quote scriptures from Ephesians as a call to unity. Yet these church are leaving because you've chosen to ignore other passages that talk about such topics as murder/abortion, sexual immorality, etc... Sadly it is time for those who see scripture as the holy inspired and innerrant word of God - the definitive answer, not a guide to shake the dust off thier shoes and leave.

    by Cassie Sorenson

    April 11, 2012

  6. I can see that these 8 elders are trying to fix PC(USA) broken wheels, but I am more worry for PC(USA) than before after I seen the list of 8 elders. Can we go back and realize who did what? If we truly believe Jesus Christ as LORD and SAVIOR, we should recognize by our fruits at the end (Matthew 7: 20-27). They are still building PC(USA) on sand. Reform should not be away from the basic bible words. They need to repent their sins and sin no more. Fear God!!! Our God is justice (Galatians 6: 7-8) What you sow, what you reap.

    by Chris Lee

    February 22, 2012

  7. What happens when Christians of deep faith disagree? Is it a time of throwing vitriolic jabs at each other claiming one to be the "truth"? Or is it possible to bless each other with that love with which God loves each of us? Why is it that the written word of God, (the Bible) has been used so many times to tear the Church apart? Over slavery, divorce, women, war, and now over how do we treat those whose sexual orientation is different from ours in the life and ministry of our church. I can't help but believe that the Lord God is listening to hear us express words of love, understanding, and respect in our differences as I hear the words, "I give you a new Commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another" (John 16:34, 34) I also believe that it is possible to "be angry and sin not". So when we disagree, let's try to understand that the other comes from their own experience and deep faith in the Living Lord. For now, we "know only in part; then I(wse) will now fully". My prayer is that God will lead us all with grace and mercy as we move on into the future.

    by Dottie Villesvik

    February 22, 2012

  8. It's no surprise PCUSA is loosing members. We may be spreading the word of the gospel but we are not walking the walk as stated in our scripture.We are bending the rules and to those of us who are conservative & believe exactly what the scripture states this is so disheartening. I personally am not going to compromise when it comes to the Lords desire for how we live & act.


    January 30, 2012

  9. I feel sorry for Presbyterians. Not I hope pity, but sadness that the PC(USA) cannot stand for something even if against the current culture.I'm ever grateful to be a Catholic. You can argue, you can fight, but at least you always know what the church stands for.

    by Dave Gomez

    January 23, 2012

  10. Mr. Coyle, your point is very well taken and if I was still a Presbyterian I for one would be pleased that gays will now be full, honored particpants in all aspects of church life. But the reason many Presbyterians who agree with you and me are going to be ex-Presbyterians is that your church deleted definitive guidance on God's counsel to us as sexual beings and replaced it with language that is silent on the issue of sexual morality. I and the others who are leaving don't want to be part of a church that has nothing to say to a sex-drenched culture any more than we would want to be part of a church that has nothing to say on issues of race and gender.

    by Jim Caraher

    January 20, 2012

  11. Isn't it amazing that the numerous votes of the General Assembly and Presbyteries to deny LGBT persons the opportunity to become ordained was "the work of the Holy Spirit," but that the more recent votes to allow such ordinations are not "the work of the Holy Spirit?" If it was the Spirit directing the earlier votes, it is the same Spirit directing the new understanding.

    by Grady E Coyle

    January 19, 2012

  12. Mr. Carher Ihave yet to hear the kind of Easter sermon you referd to in the 70 some years I have been a Christian. In those years I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church in 12 states from coast to coast. Also I don't recall any of them not giving welcome and invitions to study and fellowship with and some even giving what is usually an alter call which the congregation I worship with now does. We are all God's childern and we each worship God as God has called us to. Some of my richest worshipping experience has been with Christians in other clutures and very differnt than here in the States. AS for our work in serving the poor and working for justive we are only trying to work in Christ's foot steps which are so big we never can completely but we try to be faithful and continue in his name.

    by Peggy Andrews

    January 18, 2012

  13. Like you, Ms. Allison, "I want to be part of a church that boldly proclaims Christ as Lord and Saviour" but that wouldn't be the PC(USA). People can sit in the pews of many, many Presbyterian churches for 40 years and never once be invited to devote their lives to loving, following and serving Jesus.

    by Jim Caraher

    January 18, 2012

  14. I appreciate these 8 Elders taking the time and energy to appeal for peace. The issue, however, is *not* whether the PC(USA) is proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The issue is our own denomination's standards for ordination. Don't confuse God's love, or even God's call, with denominational standards for ordination, for they are not the same. Our pastors would do well to "re-expose" us to this truth.

    by Michael Compton

    January 18, 2012

  15. I appreciate the letter, and wish we could hear more voices within the PC(USA) who are focused on hope in Christ rather than division. I want to be part of a church that boldly proclaims Christ as Lord and Savior--a church that does so without compromising the truth that our Father is a merciful, just, and loving God who desires to have ALL his children reconciled to him. I see the PC(USA) taking large strides toward being that kind of church.

    by Cheryl Allison

    January 18, 2012

  16. It would be hard to find a better example of the PC(USA)'s cluelessness about its problems than this letter. It's full of happy talk about a brighter future and regeneration without a shred of evidence supporting those claims. Inexplicably the authors claim, "We do believe that varying parties differ not over their belief in the Gospel but over how to apply its words of grace in particular ways." I'm sure these eight authors are fine, well-intentioned Christian people but they must be skipping church on Easter. If they were in church on Easter, they would know that some Presbyterian preachers describe the resurrection as the supernatural resuscitation of a corpse while other Presbyterian preachers describe the resurrection as a metaphor for the way Jesus, though forever dead in the grave, continued as a living reality for his most devoted followers. Presbyterians always SAY the right things, promising when they're ordained that they "receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church." The core problem for the PC(USA), of course, is that regardless of what the confessions of the church say, the only convictions many Presbyterians deem essential any longer are serving the poor, working for peace and justice and being polite to each other and a gospel which is hollowed out to that extent just isn't compelling enough for most people to give their lives to. Very, very sad.

    by Jim Caraher

    January 17, 2012

  17. thank you.We need to be united in the love of Christ. The devil is in the details

    by Barbara Coleman

    January 13, 2012

  18. The PC(USA) isn't undergoing "Birth pangs" it's more like a "death rattle"

    by Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Devine

    January 13, 2012