By Matthew Everhard
Last month, Faith EPC of Brooksville sent ruling elder Gwynn Blair and I as delegates to the 32nd annual General Assembly of our denomination, the EPC, in Baton Rouge Louisiana. Delightfully, this was the first time that I also took my wife and children to the Assembly.
As an event, the G.A. was very well done. Worship times were Christ-honoring and reverent. The preaching was outstanding this year. Nothing compares to elders and their families singing gloriously to our Risen Lord and sharing the Lord’s Table as an entire denomination.
Credit here goes to our Stated Clerk and Executive Pastor, Jeff Jeremiah, and host pastor Gerrit Dawson and their staffs for spearheading the event!
Our host church, First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, did an amazing job in hosting. We were fed “southern style.” I was particularly impressed with the way that the host church and the EPC headquarters prepared events for the children. It was wonderful to see my three kids enjoy fellowship with other “P.K’s” (pastors’ kids).
The EPC is growing quickly. In the past five years we have doubled in size from 182 churches when I was ordained to our current 364 churches. This shows the fact that being a part of the EPC, a denomination that is solidly Reformed in theology and amicable in spirit, is attractive to a larger and larger number of churches.
Although a bit of our growth is attributable to church planting (we pray for far more!) the majority of our growth has come through disaffected churches departing from the increasingly liberal PCUSA. The theology of the old mainline is regarded by many as a sinking Titanic of sorts, rent asunder and foundering.
While this may seem as unqualified good news, the “other side of the coin” is that the EPC is receiving many new churches that are likely not as conservative as our own congregation. Almost all of these churches, for instance, have women elders and quite a few have women pastors (teaching elders) as well.
In our own Presbytery of Florida, for instance, we have—in just two short years—abdicated our former position of complementarianism (men elders only) in favor of accepting women elders and pastors. This change is happening rapidly, and to the chagrin of the elders of this particular local church.
How dramatically this shift impacts the EPC, only time will tell. Having said that, let me point out a few other highlights of the 32nd Assembly…
The EPC maintains a strong missionary passion. As a denomination we send missionaries into the 10/40 window regularly—regarded as the most dangerous places on earth. Our focus as a denomination is on reaching and converting the Muslim world. While a daunting task, “someone has to do it.” Let it be us!
We prayed for 37 of our missionaries in the GA. This was a wonderful moment. I strongly encourage all members of Faith to obtain one of our World Outreach missionary prayer flip-charts. My family regularly prays for all of our missionaries in a year, and many of them are in “sensitive areas” that cannot be disclosed. Our denomination has a plan called “Engage2025” to challenge each presbytery to plant a church in an unreached people group within fifteen years.
More on Church Growth
The EPC has officially closed the New Wineskins and National Non-Geographic Presbyteries that were formerly used to bring in new churches under transition. Now, churches must come directly into established geographic presbyteries. Anywhere between dozens and hundreds of churches will be seeking to enter the EPC in the coming months, as the PCUSA continues its pernicious slide into heresy. Only the Lord knows how many churches will enter the EPC, and how many will enter a brand new denomination, just opened, called ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians).
In my view, the formation of ECO is a good thing—it will serve as a “middleman” between the EPC and the liberal PCUSA. Hopefully, the more conservative churches will come here and those less so will go to ECO happily.
The EPC maintains a focus on being “missional” by intending to plant dozens of new churches here in the US. During the Assembly, many of our church planters were invited to pray to open and close business meeting sessions. This brought church planting to the fore of our denomination’s attention. As expected, each of the church planters had a miraculous story of how God is moving in their midst! This was stirring to listen to, as many pastors reported on growth with humility and tears. No church planting story is ever the same. Hearing about these great moves of the Lord’s hand only encouraged me to continue to press on as Faith Church plants Providence Church in Spring Hill.
Statement on Religious Freedom
The EPC took a rather unprecedented move in making a somewhat “political” statement during the assembly. The EPC rarely talks politics (this is a nice feature of our denomination) but this time, the relevant issues touched on abortion. We have always stood against abortion as an evil in our culture. This year, we took a stand for religious freedom by officially opposing some of the clauses in the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as “Obamacare”). This document passed unanimously states in part:
It is the position of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church that these regulations [mandates to cover abortifacent drugs, abortion related procedures and services] constitute an unprecedented overreach by the federal government and an infringement upon religious liberty and rights of conscience guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
To wrap up, though I continue to have some misgivings about the quick growth of the EPC through transfer churches from a much more liberal body, I am optimistic that the EPC remains a solid--if imperfect--denomination. Our historical moorings to the Reformed faith, and specifically the authority of Scripture, will see us through many storms of changing times, if we continue to “hold fast the faith” by building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. God help us.
Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Brooksville. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard or "friend" him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pastor.everhard