Oklahoma church joins parade of departures

First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Okla. – a congregation led by two pastors who have been active in Presbyterian evangelical interest groups – has begun the process of trying to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Mateen Elass, the church’s head-of-staff pastor, is president of the board of directors of Presbyterians for Renewal. Steve Marsh, moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition’s board of directors, is the church’s executive pastor.

In an open letter released March 21, Elass wrote that the congregation has begun the process of seeking to be dismissed from the PC(USA), although it has not yet decided which denomination the church will try to transfer to.

In an email interview, Elass said it is most likely the Edmond church would move either to the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a new denomination the Fellowship of Presbyterians created earlier this year, or to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A congregational task force is working on a recommendation regarding affiliation.

Elass said the session of the congregation met on March 3 and approved a motion recommending that the congregation ask the presbytery to be graciously dismissed from the PC(USA). The Edmond congregation is part of Indian Nations Presbytery, which includes 53 congregations in central and southwestern Oklahoma.

In his open letter, Elass wrote that the PC(USA) has been drifting theologically for more than 40 years, and that “in recent years, this drift has accelerated exponentially, to the point where core doctrines of biblical faith and central practices of Christian lifestyle are no longer deemed essential or even true.”

He also wrote that “the PC(USA) has lost its passion for evangelism” and that “we can no longer in good conscience remain bound to a denomination we feel has jettisoned the core of why we were called into existence in the first place.”

The session is hoping that a presbytery vote on dismissal could come in October, Elass wrote in the email.

He also told the Outlook that if the congregation leaves, he and Matt Jones, the associate pastor, likely would leave the PC(USA) as well. But his message said, “Steve Marsh is committed to remaining in the PC(USA) to be a faithful witness in the midst of the present denominational situation.”

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