Denominational Issues Grouop

Do you have questions about the denominational study and research process being explored by the Session of The Village Community Presbyterian Church (the “Village Church”)?

Below you will find commonly asked questions and their answers. This document has been prepared by The Village Church’s Denominational Issues Group (“DIG”) and approved by the Session for distribution to the congregation. If you are uncertain about something, please feel free to submit a question to leadership by emailing Executive Administrator Suzy Halleland at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The members of the Denominational Issues Group are Jane Allison Austin (chair), Jack Baca, Marilyn Buck, Michael Dyer, Marc Hedrick, Lyn Lloyd-Smith, Laura Metzger, and Don MacNeil.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does it mean to be Presbyterian? +

    Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. The denomination began with the writings and teachings of the French lawyer and theologian John Calvin (1509-1564), who crystalized the Reformed thinking that came before him. The greater part of Calvin’s work was written in Geneva, Switzerland. From there, the Reformed movement spread to other parts of Europe and the British Isles. John Knox (1514-1572), a Scottish follower of Calvin, founded the Presbyterian Church in Scotland in 1560. Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. The first American presbytery was organized in Philadelphia in 1706. The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789 and was convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence. Fourteen other signatories to the Declaration of Independence were also Presbyterians.

    The principal document of the Reformed faith, subordinate to the Bible, is the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession was composed between 1643 and 1646 by the Westminster Divines, an assembly of Anglican and Presbyterian theologians in Britain, who, in a time of great religious and political turmoil, worked to reconcile the Scottish Presbyterians and the Anglican Church in England. The result was a thoroughly Reformed document which remains the subordinate standard of doctrine for Presbyterians throughout the world today. The Westminster Longer and Shorter Catechisms were also written at this time by the Westminster Divines.

  • What does a Presbyterian believe? +

    The principles articulated by John Calvin, and incorporated into the Westminster Confession, are still at the core of Presbyterian beliefs today. These include the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture, justification by grace alone through faith alone, and the priesthood of all believers. What this means is that God is the supreme authority throughout the universe. Our knowledge of God and of God’s purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God’s generous gift to us, not the result of our own accomplishments or works. It is everyone’s task -- ministers and lay people alike -- to share this good news (gospel) with the whole world. That is also why the Presbyterian Church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy and laity, both men and women. Their charge is to follow the will of Christ, as it is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

  • How is a Presbyterian congregation governed? +

    John Calvin developed Presbyterian polity, meaning the way in which the church is governed, as a rejection of governance by hierarchies of single bishops (Episcopal polity). The Presbyterian governance also differs from the Congregationalist polity where each congregation is independent. In the Presbyterian form of government, authority flows from the bottom up in that the moderator and officers are elected by and from the members of the assembly. However, authority also flows from the top down as higher assemblies (bodies) exercise limited but important control over individual congregations. For example, while an individual congregation may call a pastoral candidate, only a presbytery can ordain and install pastors, and establish, close or approve relocating a congregation. The details of this governing structure for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) {PC(USA)} are detailed in the The Book of Order.

    Governing authority in an individual congregation is vested primarily in its elected laypeople, known as ruling elders. Together with the congregation’s pastors, known as teaching elders or Ministers of Word and Sacrament, ruling elders exercise leadership, governance, and discipline and have responsibility for the spiritual and financial life of a particular congregation through the work of the governing body called the Session. Having been elected by the congregation, the ruling elders are representatives of the members of the congregation; however, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ as they govern.

    Each congregation’s Session annually elects ruling elder representatives, known as commissioners, to the higher body of regional governance, which is called the presbytery. Presbyteries are in turn grouped into regional synods which report to the highest ruling body called the General Assembly, comprised of an equal number of teaching and ruling elders gathered from all 171 presbyteries. The Village Church is a member of the San Diego Presbytery, which includes 32 local congregations, and the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii {see further discussion in the question “What is the PC(USA)?” below}.

  • What is the importance of education and mission in the Presbyterian Church? +

    Historically, Presbyterians are known for their commitment to education, scholarship, orderly worship, and orderly governance. An important distinctive of Presbyterianism is its historical commitment to an educated clergy. Presbyterian missionaries brought the gospel to many nations, with South Korea perhaps being the most significant country in the last century. There are also many Presbyterian-affiliated institutions such as camps, colleges, universities, hospitals, retirement homes, orphanages, schools and seminaries.

  • What does a denomination really mean? +

    According to Collins English Dictionary, a denomination is a “group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization.” Denomination is considered a middle term between “congregation” and “church.” As part of the study and research process, our congregation’s Denominational Issues Group is reflecting on how the PC(USA) helps the ministry to which God has called our congregation and how affiliation with the PC(USA) clarifies the gospel message we are called to communicate to our community.

  • What is the PC(USA)? +

    The PC(USA) is a mainline Christian denomination and the largest of the 32 Presbyterian denominations in the United States. The different Presbyterian denominations evolved over various issues such as slavery, ordination standards for pastors and elders, abstinence of alcohol, traditions in worship, and interpretations of the authority of scripture.

    Presbyterian denominations in the United States have a long history of separation and reunification. The PC(USA) was formed in 1983 when two Presbyterian denominations (the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America {UPC(USA)} and the Presbyterian Church in the United States {PC(US)} reunited. They had separated in 1861 over theological issues, the most important being slavery.

    The Village Church was established in 1956 as part of the Los Angeles Presbytery, which belonged to the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. {UPC(USA)}. The Village Church affiliated with the PC(USA) in 1983 when the UPC became part of the PC(USA) .

    The Constitution of the PC(USA) is comprised of two parts: The Book of Confessions and The Book of Order. The Book of Confessions defines the beliefs (theology) of the church. Complementing that is The Book of Order, whichdefines the organization and function (or polity) of the church at all levels. The Book of Order iscurrently divided into three sections -- (1) Form of Government, (2) Directory for Worship, and (3) Rules of Discipline.

    In Presbyterian denominations, the Session is the governing body of the local church. A Presbytery is the regional governing body, which is comprised of local congregations. The Session of each congregation in a presbytery elects ruling elders (lay representatives) as voting commissioners to its presbytery. All teaching elders (pastors) from the congregations within a presbytery are also voting members of that presbytery.

    The Village Church is a part of PC(USA)’s San Diego Presbytery, which has 32 churches throughout San Diego County. As of 2015, there are 171 PC(USA) presbyteries in the United States. There are 16 synods within the PC(USA). Each synod is comprised of and oversees the presbyteries within its region. The Village Church is part of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii. The PC(USA) General Assembly is the denomination’s national governing body and is comprised of equal numbers of ruling elders (lay persons) and teaching elders (pastors) elected by the 171 presbyteries. The General Assembly meets every two years, the last meeting having been held in June, 2014, in Detroit, Michigan. The 222d General Assembly will convene in Portland, Oregon, in 2016. The national headquarters of the PC(USA) is located in Louisville, Kentucky.

  • How does being affiliated with the PC(USA) influence our congregation? +

    Our denomination provides us with valuable structure in our form of government, qualifications for leadership, an overall focus and identity, our confessions, and a sense of mission in the larger world through various outreach and advocacy efforts. The Book of Order and The Book of Confessions provide the practices and doctrines to which the congregations of the PC(USA) and their ordained pastors and ruling elders must adhere. The Book of Confessions provides the theology that guides the churches in our denomination. Our pastoral selection process is facilitated and controlled by our presbytery. Pastoral discipline issues are governed by our denomination’s Rules of Discipline. Our local presbytery determines the minimum benefits and salary we can offer pastoral staff. The national organization arranges and provides pension and medical plans for our pastors.

  • How much does The Village Church contribute financially to the PC(USA)? +

    In 2015, we pay per capita dues of $31.03 for each official member of the congregation, with per capita dues allocated as follows:

    Presbytery: $21.36
    Synod: $2.60
    General Assembly: $7.07

  • What are the key denominational issues that concern our Session? +

    The issues, which have been growing over the last decades, fall into three major categories: theology, social issues, and polity. Theology issues include perceived differing views on the authority of scripture and the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity. Social issues include the positions taken by the PC(USA) regarding abortion, sexuality, marriage, Israel, Palestine, and active advocacy of political causes. Polity issues include recent significant changes in national church governance as well as issues with church property ownership.

    There is also an overall concern about the rapid and continual decline of membership in the PC(USA). The decline is due to two factors: the overall decline in most mainline Protestant denominations and the fact that more conservative congregations are leaving the PC(USA) for other Presbyterian denominations. (See below “What are other congregations doing?” for more detailed statistics.)

    It is important to recognize that these issues are not new. Members of our congregation have raised concerns that have been seriously discussed by our Session formany years. Although Session recognizes that the issues of gay ordination and marriage capture the most press coverage and evoke the strongest emotional reactions, these issues are not the sole driver of the current discussions. Session is not inclined to make a decision regarding our denominational affiliation based solely on the gay ordination and gay marriage issues.

    Our congregation includes people who hold a wide range of understanding and personal opinions about the issues before us. We are not a monolithic congregation. There are members of the congregation who feel strongly about maintaining our association with the PC(USA) and others who feel strongly about breaking that association. It is important that the issues are viewed from a variety of perspectives.

    There are positive reasons for remaining in the PC(USA):

    • We have strong relationships within our presbytery, and we can work to be a positive, faithful influence within the PC(USA).

    • Our church leadership (both pastoral and lay) have good relationships with many in the denomination. There is work being done, particularly in the strong and robust mission and church development programs at the national level. We have very strong relationships with the PC(USA) churches in the San Diego Presbytery. The Village Church participates in and benefits from these programs and relationships.

    • There are administrative benefits associated with pastor benefits and general governance.

    • The Book of Order provides structure for our church.

    • There are costs with leaving the denomination in terms of gracious separation, rebranding our church, and potential turmoil within the congregation.

    • Remaining affiliated with the PC(USA) avoids legal disputes regarding ownership of church property.

    • PC(USA) changes are supported and embraced by some members of the congregation and community.

    • As a church we currently are free to worship and live as we desire: none of the new marriage and ordination rules are required to be implemented within our congregation. We can still put our energy into growth, discipleship and evangelism.

    • Options for reaffiliation are with recently formed organizations, and their future operation and organization are largely unknown at this time.

     

    The counterpoints to these reasons are:

    • We are seeking to be faithful to the teaching of scripture. We need to carefully discern the theological issues.

    • Other denominations do not have a “trust clause”, removing property ownership issues.

    • Some members of the congregation oppose much of what they view as the liberally-based political lobbying of the PC(USA) and do not want to be affiliated with, nor provide financial support to, an organization that is increasingly engaged in political enterprises.

    • Over the past four decades, issues have been building that make it difficult to turn the denomination from its current trajectory. The General Assembly and Stated Clerk continue to make political and social policy statements on behalf of the denomination. An increasing number of churches are leaving the PC(USA) for other denominations. It is difficult to have an influence on the larger church as more conservative churches are leaving.

    • The reality that we are free to operate as we are led now may be changing. The time may be approaching when broader changes in the denomination may have an impact on the daily life and ministry of The Village Church.

  • Isn’t all this talk about the denomination a distraction from our main mission? +

    Historically and even today, denominational affiliation has played a small role in our daily life as a Village Church community. Session and church staff do not let the current discussions distract us from our core mission as a church or create divisions within our church family. Our leadership team remains focused on our strategies and programs for meeting our core mission to “Follow Jesus for Life.”

  • Are these issues important enough to lead us to consider disaffiliation with the PC(USA)? +

    This is a key question of our study. The Session, the Denominational Issues Group, and church leadership are reviewing the national issues in light of their potential impact on our ability to effectively serve our congregation and community. Church leaders share a unity of belief on the essential and foundational doctrines regarding the scriptures, Jesus’ divinity, and the Resurrection. We are associated with a presbytery that holds views consistent with our congregation. We are, however, vigilant about continuing to understand how PC(USA) issues and actions could affect our church operation and the mission of The Village Church, both now and in the future.

  • What are other congregations doing? +

    Some churches in our presbytery are looking at denominational issues to determine the impact of affiliation with PC(USA) on their congregation. Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spring Valley has formally requested that it begin the San Diego Presbytery’s Gracious Separation process. Another congregation in the County is still considering whether they will seek to begin the formal process for separation. Other congregations in our presbytery are taking no action at this time.

    Only two congregations have disassociated from the San Diego Presbytery in recent years. In 1992, the Fallbrook Presbyterian Church left the San Diego Presbytery and became the Sonrise Christian Fellowship Fallbrook, an independent Presbyterian Church not affiliated with any ecclesiastical organization or denomination. Because of the timing and manner in which they chose to leave the denomination, there were many legal and property issues associated with their dismissal from the San Diego Presbytery. The First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu was graciously dismissed from the presbytery in 2014 after joining the San Diego Presbytery in 2012. Its dismissal was on much friendlier terms than the Fallbrook church.

    In 2013, there were over 10,000 congregations and worshiping communities organized into 172 Presbyteries in the PC(USA). The PC(USA) has issued the following statistics regarding PC(USA) membership from 2006-2013:

    PCUSA Congregations

    The Office of the General Assembly of PC(USA) has reported that membership in the denomination at the end of 2013 was 1,760,200 and that the total number of churches was 10,038.

  • What are our options if we choose to disaffiliate from the PC(USA)? +

    Part of our process is to study the options and determine if other acceptable Reformed denominations are better aligned with The Village Church. The San Diego Presbytery’s Gracious Separation Policy defines the process for disaffiliation and states that the presbytery can only dismiss a church to another Reformed body. This means that we could not disaffiliate and become a non-denominational church. We want to carefully consider what it would mean to join a different denomination and ensure that there are not a different set of issues that could impact our congregation.

  • Who owns The Village Church property? +

    The Village Church holds legal title to all its property. However, The Book of Order provides that all local church property is held in trust for the whole denomination (the “Trust Clause”). Legal precedence for church property ownership when a church reaffiliates is still being formed so the direct answer to this question is still unclear.

  • Where are we in the process? +

    A variety of actions and decisions made by the {PC(USA)}, over a period of time, has generated concern among some members of our congregation about continuing to be aligned with the PC(USA) denomination. Others in the congregation have a strong allegiance to the PC(USA) denomination. Session (our church’s governing body) established a Denominational Issues Group to monitor national developments and study the short and long-term impact national decisions have on our congregation. The committee’s role is to study the issues in-depth, without a perspective of any pre-determined outcomes. Other churches who have entered similar processes have taken several years to achieve any definitive recommendations to their Sessions and congregations. Committee members include: Jane Allison Austin (chair), Jack Baca, Marilyn Buck, Michael Dyer, Marc Hedrick, Lyn Lloyd-Smith, Don MacNeil, and Laura Metzger.

  • Will there be a vote of our congregation before any actions are taken? +

    That depends on what, if any, proposal is ultimately put forth by the Session. San Diego Presbytery requires congregational votes if we were to request separation from the PC(USA). Since we have made no decision to leave the denomination, no vote is anticipated in the near term.

  • What can I do? +

    Pray—For all members of our church, including our pastors, lay leaders, Session, and the Denominational Issues Group to listen for the voice of God and follow Him in TRUTH and GRACE.

    Learn—Take advantage of the available opportunities to stay informed about issues that concern you. Be prepared to discuss the issues in a respectful manner and understand all sides of any controversial issues from both a personal and spiritual perspective. Be open-minded about alternative viewpoints.

    Connect—Talk about your ideas and concerns with others, including pastors, elders, and fellow members of The Village Church community. This is a community issue. Ask questions where you need clarity or additional information. Demonstrate an attitude of civility while listening and engaging others in dialogue.

    Reflect—Ponder what you have heard and read. Try to loosen your own grip on certainty enough to consider another point of view and listen for the often quiet voice of God as we move our congregation and its leaders through this process.

  • How can I learn more about the issues? +

    Initially, we will be setting up a location on The Village Church website where information pertinent to our congregation is placed (e.g., Town Hall meeting summaries, FAQs, issue summaries, and general communication updates to congregation). The PC(USA) website {PCUSA.org} also contains source material on General Assembly actions and has various materials about the issues. The Fellowship Community is a group of pastoral leaders of some PC(USA) congregations who are exploring new ways forward. Their website {fellowship-pres.org} contains materials about denominational issues and options. Additionally, we plan to provide direct communication and “town hall” updates and meetings to further enlighten our congregation on the issues and potential actions.

  • What is the history of these issues at the San Diego Presbytery and The Village Church? +

    The San Diego Presbytery and The Village Church have been monitoring and observing denominational issues for many years. Here are some of the key activities that have been taken:

    • In 1983, The Village Church became affiliated with the PC(USA) when the denomination was created and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A (UPC) became part of the PC(USA).

    • In 2006, the San Diego Presbytery formed a Way Forward committee to review denominational issues. For information on the committee’s report, Download Here

    • In 2011, a series of town hall meetings were held to discuss denominational issues and their impact on our congregation.

    • In August 2011, pastor and elder representatives attended the first Fellowship of Presbyterians conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    • In January 2012 pastor and elder representatives attended the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in Orlando, Florida.

    • In August 2012 pastor and elder representatives attended the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    • In 2013, the San Diego Presbytery approved a Gracious Dismissal Policy and Process.

    • In August 2013 elder representatives attended the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in Orlando, Florida.

    • In 2014, Pastor Baca held town hall meetings to discuss changes voted by the PC(USA) General Assembly.

    • In 2014, Session passed a resolution, agreed to by our pastors, that same-gender marriages would not be performed by our pastors on our church property.

    • In 2014, Session asked the Strategic Planning Commission to review denominational issues.

    • In August, 2014, pastor and elder representatives attended a Fellowship of Presbyterians conference in Dallas, Texas.

    • In September, 2014 the San Diego Presbytery was the first Presbytery in the country to vote on the marriage amendment to The Book of Order, voting NO on the amendment.

    • In 2014, Session approved establishment of a denominational committee to concentrate on denominational issues that could potentially impact our congregation.

    • In November, 2014 the San Diego Presbytery voted to recommend that the Belhar Confession be added to The Book of Confessions, with the stipulation that publication of the document should be accompanied by the original Accompanying Letter from Belhar to explain the context of the confession. The Belhar Confession grew from the experience of apartheid (racial separation) in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa.

    • In January, 2015 pastor and elder representatives attended the Fellowship Community (formerly known as the Fellowship of Presbyterians ) Theology Conference in San Diego.

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