Presbyterians discontent with what they view as an abandonment of Scripture in the PC(USA) announced Thursday that they are launching their own Reformed body.
Calling it the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the group presented the body not as an "alternative" but rather as a structure that "enables ministry," Layman.org quoted Dr. John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, as saying.
"Every organism lives in a larger system. A healthy ecosystem filters out toxins so that organisms can thrive," Ortberg said at a conference of The Fellowship of Presbyterians – the group launching ECO. "The goal is to build a spiritual ecosystem that in turn builds flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ."
More than 2,000 Presbyterians gathered in Orlando this week to provide support for congregations discontent with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to officially launch the new church body.
Attendees are weighing whether to join the ECO or remain a faithful witness in the PC(USA).
"We are not angry, we are determined," said ECO President John Crosby, according to Presbyterian News Service. "We are not 'after' or 'against' them."
Ortberg also noted that they want to "honor, not dishonor, our brothers and sisters in the PC(USA)."
Dozens of churches have left the PC(USA) over the past few years, citing the denomination's liberal direction on scriptural authority and homosexuality. Most recently in 2008, the General Assembly – the denomination's highest governing body – approved a proposal to delete from its constitution a requirement that clergy live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
The ban on partnered homosexual clergy was officially lifted last summer after a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries approved the measure.
In response to the changed ordination rules, The Fellowship of Presbyterians was created last year by pastors concerned about the health of the PC(USA).
Now with the launch of its new body, The Fellowship is offering a new home for Presbyterians who want to move past the infighting and get back to reaching people for Christ.
"The problem is not denominational ambiguity or ecclesiastical dividedness or even ineffectiveness," Ortberg said at the Jan. 18-20 conference, according to Layman.org. "The problem is that people are going to hell."
"Our job is to put hell out of business – that's why Jesus went to the cross on a Friday and laid in a tomb and rose on Easter morning."
The new body's name, ECO, represents a commitment to "make disciples of Jesus Christ (Evangelical), connect leaders through accountable biblical relationships founded in God's grace (Covenant), and commit to a shared way of life together (Order)."
The ECO logo is a leaf with a cross in the middle, which is meant to convey the message: "keeping the cross and God's Word at the center of growth."
ECO President John Crosby and The Fellowship of Presbyterians President Jim Singleton stressed that their desire for the new body is to "reclaim a sense of covenanted biblical community, where unity is derived from a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ, rather than by structural mandate."
"Our theological beliefs and core values unite us and inform our daily ministry, as leaders of all generations are being developed to equip God's people to speak the gospel into a rapidly-changing world."
Notably, the ECO affirms the role of women in leadership positions. The group states, "We affirm that men and women alike are called to all the ministries of the Church, and that every member is called to share in all of Christ's offices within the world beyond the church."
According to Presbyterian minister Jeff Gissing, that makes the ECO "the only presbyterian and evangelical denomination that fully endorses and supports our sisters in giving expression to their pastoral and ministerial gifts."
The unveiling of the ECO comes years after former members of The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also launched their own bodies in response to the liberal direction of the denominations.
Presbyterians have the option of joining the ECO or becoming an affiliate member while remaining in another denomination.
The Fellowship of Presbyterians could not be reached for comment.