- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — The Evangelical Presbyterian Church wrapped up its annual General Assembly here yesterday without any discussion of ordaining homosexual pastors, performing same-sex “marriages” or divesting from Israel.

Church leaders did have to grapple with an issue that no longer troubles their brethren in mainline Protestant denominations: explosive growth.

In what church leaders called a historic decision, the EPC voted to establish transitional presbyteries in order to accommodate an increasing number of congregations interested in joining the conservative evangelical denomination.

The process will allow the EPC to streamline its membership procedures and thus accept more new churches than its current rules allow.

“We’re going to usher in an era of significant change in the life of our denomination. We’re really stepping out in faith,” said Jeffrey Jeremiah, the EPC’s stated clerk, who previously served as an associate pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda.

At the same time, Mr. Jeremiah rejected the idea of adding on churches in order to create a denomination rivaling the mainline Protestant churches.

“I have this much interest in building a bigger EPC,” said Mr. Jeremiah, holding his thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart. “I have [a bigger] interest in building an institution.”

In biblical years, the EPC is still in its infancy. The church was founded in 1981 after a split with the mainline Presbyterian Church over the denomination’s increasingly liberal direction.

The EPC started with just 12 churches. In the years since then, it has grown to include 188 congregations and 75,000 members.

The EPC has no real geographic locus: Although the church is headquartered in Michigan and has more than 20 congregations there, it also has numerous churches in Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia.

Most EPC churches are either newly planted or converts from other denominations, notably the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

That church boasts 2.4 million members and 11,100 congregations but continues to struggle after three decades of declining membership. The denomination also has wrestled with disputes over same-sex “marriage” and ordination of homosexual ministers.

At the General Assembly, held at the Cherry Hills Community Church campus, EPC leaders reminded the 1,000 attendees that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

“The real challenge is how to proclaim the Gospel in a secularizing America,” said outgoing moderator Paul Heidebrecht, executive director of Christian Leaders for Africa. “We simply don’t have the luxury of competing with other denominations. We need every ally we can get.”

Another challenge for the church is increasing its missionary work around the world, particularly in environments hostile to Christianity. At least two-thirds of the denomination’s missionaries are working in so-called “closed” countries, including Muslim nations, where many Christians are unable to worship openly.

“These are places where you can’t go in and say, ‘I’m a Christian missionary,’ ” EPC spokesman Ed McCallum said.

At one point, church leaders introduced two-dozen missionaries and mentioned the countries in which they served, but cautioned the audience to avoid repeating the information.

“If I tell you [where they serve], I’ll have to shoot you,” World Outreach Director Jeff Chadwick said.

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