John Ortberg’s Menlo Park Presbyterian votes to leave PCUSA despite $8 million fee

March 7, 2014

WASHINGTON

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving.

Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church, with about 4,000 members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

“This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning. There’s a lot yet to come of what Dallas Willard called the unique life of spiritual adventure in living with God daily — entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought, for ourselves, and for us as a church,” Ortberg wrote.

A Menlo Park spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.

The church voted to join a newer denomination called ECO, A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which has attracted 115 other Presbyterian churches since it started in 2012. In its rationale for leaving, Menlo Park cited differences in identity, mission, governance and owning its property.

“Surprisingly, there are many PC(USA)-ordained pastors who do not believe, for example, in the deity of Christ or in salvation through faith in Christ,” the rationale states, citing a 2011 PCUSA survey that suggested 41 percent agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local Presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.

The move comes shortly after a prominent Texas congregation narrowly voted to remain with the denomination. A majority of members at First Presbyterian Church of Houston voted to join the ECO, but the vote fell short of a required two-thirds majority by 36 votes. The church is the seventh largest in the denomination, with more than 4,000 members.

Last year, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, another Texas megachurch of about 4,000 members, voted to leave the PCUSA for ECO, and it remains in a property dispute with the PCUSA.

While not cited in Menlo Park’s key reasons for leaving the denomination, differences over sexuality have been a key issue for many departing congregations. The PCUSA’s General Assembly in 2012 upheld the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, a decision that is expected come up again during this summer’s assembly. In 2010, the denomination moved to drop its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian ministers.

The PCUSA has 1.8 million members, losing an average of 60,000 per year, according to the denomination. A spokeswoman at PCUSA headquarters in Louisville, Ky., said she would be unavailable to comment before RNS deadline.

  1. Thank you, John, for your good writing and your leadership at MPPC.. First Pres. in Houston only lacked 33 votes- they needed a super majority of 66 per cent- to follow your wise example...David Peterson , although recently retired from Memorial Drive Pres. in Houston , is a superb leader in staying with the Word !!!

    by Max Hickerson

    March 12, 2014

  2. “The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local Presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.” Is there a dis-connect or confusion on the part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church? Disinvesting from companies who contribute to violent oppression is not a distraction from our core mission in Christ. One cannot decry the lack of Christ’s authority in our denomination and then in the next breath disclaim the consequence of that authority, which prevents others, as Ortberg says, from “entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought”. The Presbytery of San Francisco affirmed that we cannot be financially complicit in the discrimination and death of others as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar supply the Israeli military with technology supportive of the occupation and ethnic cleansing of a people. I trust that Menlo would affirm our core mission is to care more about human rights than corporations, integrity more than profits and the imprisonment of children over personal riches.

    by John Anderson

    March 10, 2014

  3. I really find it interesting that the pastor did not go through the normal ordination process and then guides the churches out of the denomination.

    by Jonathan Evans

    March 10, 2014

  4. And, further, for the 41% who believe that "only the followers of Jesus Christ can be saved," I must ask, what are we in the church to do with texts such as the following taken from yesterday's lectionary readings: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations." Psalm 22:27-28

    by ron obenchain

    March 8, 2014

  5. I do not think we voted to "drop (our) ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian ministers," but, rather, to drop our this-is-the-only-ordination-for teaching-and/or-ruling-elder-disqualifying-sin language regarding unfaithfulness in marriage and non-celibacy in singleness. I understand why the secular press misstates the story (it sells more newspapers), but I wish our official reports, such as this one, would be more exact. That having been said, my primary response to this story is one of great sadness re. this church's departure from our denomination; and, I must confess, a bit of anger regarding their arrogance. (Talk about a disqualifying sin!)

    by ron obenchain

    March 8, 2014

  6. The crux of the issue is in regard to the 2011 PCUSA survey that suggested 41 percent agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” The issue of "Christ alone" (John 14:6, 3:16, and many other verses) is the bedrock of the disputes, in my opinion. I have run into stiff discussions (a little less than an 'argument') in Sunday School classes, book studies, & other conversations with members and elders over the years on this issue. The "social" issues and divestment issue, etc. are smokescreens in my view for the fundamental division that is occurring regarding Christ as the sole Redemption possible for fallen humanity. The "New Christianity", also known as the "emerging church", considers the literal belief in the Gospel message that Christ is the only way, as "theological arrogance" (a phrase that is sometimes used). The emerging church movement, which has infiltrated our churches, wants to embrace all people, regardless of faith or lack of it, as "God's children". Galatians 3:26 clearly states: "for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith." And again in John 1:12 - "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God," And Romans 8:9b -- "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." This is rather strict and can seem offensive to some. But it is the Gospel and the clear beliefs in the New Testament. But we don't have to be arrogant about it. We should -- and many of us DO -- show the agape love of Christ and give material and spiritual aid to those of other faiths who are in need. While some churches split off to other denominations, that does not leave a united PCUSA. Within congregations there are splits -- dare I say chasms? -- on this critical issue. And members like myself are becoming wary of trusting some elders on theological matters. What does "ordained" mean now, in PCUSA? Ordained in what, if not the Gospel?

    by Stephen_Schlarb

    March 7, 2014

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