Church Worldwide: John Ortberg’s Menlo Park Presbyterian Votes to Leave PCUSA

| |

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving.

Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church, with about 4,000 members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

“This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning. There’s a lot yet to come of what Dallas Willard called the unique life of spiritual adventure in living with God daily—entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought, for ourselves, and for us as a church,” Ortberg wrote.

A Menlo Park spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.

The church voted to join a newer denomination called ECO, A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which has attracted 115 other Presbyterian churches since it started in 2012. In its rationale for leaving, Menlo Park cited differences in identity, mission, governance, and owning its property.

“Surprisingly, there are many PC(USA)-ordained pastors who do not believe, for example, in the deity of Christ or in salvation through faith in Christ,” the rationale states, citing a 2011 PCUSA survey that suggested 41 percent agreed with the statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.

The move comes shortly after a prominent Texas congregation narrowly voted to remain with the denomination. A majority of members at First Presbyterian Church of Houston voted to join the ECO, but the vote fell short of a required two-thirds majority by 36 votes. The church is the seventh-largest in the denomination, with more than 4,000 members.

Last year, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, another Texas mega church of about 4,000 members, voted to leave the PCUSA for ECO, and it remains in a property dispute with the PCUSA.

While not cited in Menlo Park’s key reasons for leaving the denomination, differences over sexuality have been a key issue for many departing congregations. The PCUSA’s General Assembly in 2012 upheld the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, a decision that is expected come up again during this summer’s assembly. In 2010, the denomination moved to drop its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian ministers.

The PCUSA has 1.8 million members, losing an average of 60,000 per year, according to the denomination. A spokeswoman at PCUSA headquarters in Louisville, Ky., said she would be unavailable to comment before RNS deadline.

About the Author

Religion News Service is an independent, nonprofit and award-winning source of global news on religion, spirituality, culture and ethics.

See comments (4)


Delagates to Synod 2014 especially should take note of this article and start thinking hard about how what is happening in the PCUSA is being mirrored, even if arguably a tad bit behind in time, in the CRCNA.  The issues underlying this "progression" must ultimately be taken up by Synod (that is, those delegated to Synod), and not merely shuffled off to the BOT as Synods have increasingly been inclined to do.

John Ortberg is certainly a highly respected pastor and has written a number of inciteful and best selling books on the Christian faith.  The Anglican Church in Canada has lost a high percentage of their members in similiar fashion to the Presbyterian Church(USA).  James Packer, one of the most respected theologicans and scholars in Christianity today and author of a classic book, Knowing God, highly endorces the book, THE BISHOP THE KING, by Ron Corcoran.  Ron tells the story of the Anglican Church in Canada and is a first hand read of what happened. I might add that Ron's story is much different than what has been reported in the Canadian press.

Over the years, little things happen to a denomination to take it away from scripture, away from purity, away from its mission.  These little things are not noticed until something big happens, like ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.  Then the average person realizes how absurd and ungodly it is, and is willing to sacrifice millions of dollars of church property to say so.  Unfortunate that the symptoms were not seen earlier. 

 Why is the CRC  holding hands with the  PCUSA  and like minded denominations in ecuminical movements like the WCRC, lest we become like them, apostate ourselves?  " Therefore come out from among them, and be ye seperate, saith the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing, and I will receive you. " 2 Cor. 6: 17