The “new Reformed body” being created by the Fellowship of Presbyterians here this week will be called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the 2,000 Presbyterians gathered here were told this morning (Jan. 19).
“We thought about three words,” said the Rev. John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park (Calif.) Presbyterian Church. “’Evangelical’ because we are not afraid of the gospel. ‘Covenant’ because part of our treasure is that our God is a covenant-making God and churches ought to be in covenant with each other. ‘Order’ because we commit to a way of life together so that God can raise up a new order of Christians.”
The acronym for the new denomination ― participants here will adopt a new doctrinal statement which includes the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a new polity as well as a mission statement and list of values ― is ECO, Ortberg added.
It comes from the word “oikos,” Ortberg explained, “which means ‘household’ and implies thriving organisms and healthy eco-systems … and affirms our conviction that denominations exist to serve churches, not the other way around.”
“’Of Presbyterians’ is also part of the name because we are Presbyterians, after all,” Ortberg said.
That congregations are central to ECO is evident in its mission statement: “To build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
But a vision is not enough, said the Rev. John Crosby, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minn. “It must be informed by values.”
Crosby outlined the nine values of ECO:
- Jesus-shaped Identity ― “the key is making disciples rather than orthodox believers.”
- Biblical Integrity – “A faith that is not just taught but shapes the life of your community.”
- Thoughtful Theology – “not papers for intellectuals but rearing followers who are able to reflect and apply their faith to their lives.”
- Accountable Community – “caring environments that allows integral faith to emerge.”
- Egalitarian Ministry – women and minorities in leadership.
- Missional Centrality – “the whole of the gospel to the whole of the world; what would you lose if your church went away?”
- Center-focused Spirituality – “calling people to the core of Christianity, not fixating on the boundaries ― we are NOT truth cops.”
- Leadership Velocity – “growing and developing leaders who are culture-changing, risk-taking innovators.”
- Kingdom Vitality – “congregational life is not about size, but trajectory.”
“These values,” Crosby said, “will make and keep us a movement, not a bureaucracy.”
Ortberg and Crosby emphasized that creation of ECO will be time-consuming and “messy.”
“This is an uncertain time,” Crosby said, noting that 60 percent of respondents to a pre-gathering survey said they were in “a period of discernment” about denominational alignment. “We are not angry, we are determined … we are not ‘after’ or ‘against’ them ― we all need time, space and grace …. We want to flesh out the options and then let God lead so we have the sense that we’re all working together.”
Ortberg agreed. “We want to honor, not dishonor, our brothers and sisters in the PC(USA),” he said. “Why bother? What problem are we trying to solve? The problem is not denominational ambiguity or ecclesiastical disunity or even ineffectiveness; we are doing this because people are going to hell and Jesus came to save them and we must be instruments of that salvation.”
Ortberg said hell prevails “every time a child is neglected or a marriage ends or a lie gets told or money gets hoarded or generations get divided or a workplace becomes oppressive or a culture of shamelessness emerges.”
Too many churches settle for “pretty good” and “pretty good is not okay with Jesus,” Ortberg said. “Our job is to put hell out of business.
“I have no desire to be part of a church that believes pretty good is okay while the gates of hell remain open,” Ortberg continued.
“I want to be part of a community that is willing to give everything we have to fulfill the redemptive purpose God has set before us. God has done it before, God will do it again,” he said. “Will you devote your life to be part of such a church?”