Are you wondering where UPC stands on some of the issues facing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today? Our Church Talk team has put together some FAQs. Still have questions or would you like to have a personal conversation?
What is the PC(USA) doing that led Session to decide to be part of The Fellowship Community?
It is difficult to characterize the views of a denomination as a whole, but we have noted over the years a significant and growing gap between UPC's theological commitments (those beliefs that we hold to be essential) and those held by many in the PC(USA). For example, a 2011 Presbytery Panel survey asked how pastors feel about the statement: "Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved." Only 41% of ordained pastors strongly agreed or agreed with this, while 45% strongly disagreed or disagreed.
We believe that God has expressed himself uniquely in his son Jesus, who lived, taught, died, and rose again for our sakes. This kind of divergence is not evident in the creeds and confessions of the PC(USA), but is expressed through significant conflict within the denomination.
Why is it important to affirm these Essential Tenets?
The Fellowship Community's Covenant and Essential Tenets are aligned with UPC's understanding of scripture, theology, and our historic confessions. The Fellowship seeks to gather churches around a common theological center, holding one another to a high standard of accountability.
The Essential Tenets represent our historic and existing understanding of our relationship with God through Christ, both in belief and practice. The Covenant and Tenets emphasize:
The nature and role of Jesus as God's gracious human incarnation and the only source of our salvation;Life in obedience to the Word of God as the final authority in all our decisions, choices and actions; The fruit of the Holy Spirit in transforming our individual members and congregation for joyful and useful Kingdom work; Our covenant life together as brothers and sisters in faith called to live in community as faithful stewards of all of life, at peace with God and as winsome encouragers to all persons we encounter.
In the broad theological tent of our denomination (PCUSA), it is important to differentiate from those on the edges of this tent who no longer affirm these core theological convictions that are central to our ministry. Despite years of efforts, PC(USA) has not been able to agree to identifying essential tenets. Without a standard, there is no way to measure, leading to continual intractable theological debates.
How has joining the Fellowship expanded our relationships with other churches?
Joining the Fellowship expands our relationships by intentionally broadening and deepening these relationships through establishing a core group of churches who meet regularly to evaluate our progress in ministry and mission goals and to share best practices.
What would these relationships look like?
Three to five congregations would commit to gathering elders and pastors each year to write and review a "Narrative on the Health of Mission and Ministry" of each congregation. UPC Pastors will commit to being in small groups with other pastors for growth and prayer.
Who benefits: the staff, the congregation, or both?
UPC will have access to events and training to encourage the development of our ministry and leadership. This includes the Elder Institute hosted at Whitworth University, and other national and regional gatherings.
How will joining the Fellowship impact our participation in our denomination (PCUSA) or engagement of issues within it?
UPC remains in the PC(USA) and will continue to be an active participant in the Seattle Presbytery, the General Assembly and contribute to the mission causes and goals of PC(USA) through our payment of our per capita. Joining the Fellowship of Presbyterians has no impact on our relationship with the PC(USA).
How will the Fellowship help UPC be a church that develops new congregations and new leaders in the church?
Already the Fellowship is hosting workshops on church planting and developing resources like the Elder Institute at Whitworth University to resource congregations. The network of churches with intern ministries that share resources and applicants will grow. As pastoral leaders emerge in congregations like UPC, they will have confident access to other congregations in the Fellowship as they seek calls to ministry.
By joining the Fellowship is UPC making a new statement about sexual ethics?
The simple answer is no. UPC has been consistent in the expression of its views on sexual ethics and nothing has changed. We believe that Jesus wants to be in a relationship with every person. While sexuality is important, it is only one facet of the human experience. Our primary identity comes from being created and loved by God. Our humble understanding of God’s intention for sexual intimacy is that it be expressed in a permanent covenant relationship between a husband and wife. Churches within the PC(USA) differ on this issue, and people within the UPC family differ on this issue. We believe that people who have different views can be in community together by honoring each other with respect and love.
If you would like more information on UPC's views on sexual ethnic here are links to some great resources.
+ PC(USA) Updates from Pastor George Hinman: Archive
+ A Pastoral Affirmation from Pastor Emeritus Early Palmer (February 2002)
+ Gracious Imperatives: A statement presented by Pastor George Hinman to the UPC Session, October 2013
+ "Sexuality and the Church" A three-week class taught by Pastor Laurie Wheeler in 2013.