- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A Springfield church has voted to split with the Presbyterian Church USA over differences in theological beliefs.

Members of the First and Calvary Presbyterian Church voted Sunday for the split, with 72 percent of those voting approving the decision, The Springfield News-Leader reported (https://sgfnow.co/1HXCYvN ). The church also recently received a restraining order to keep the local governing body from interfering in the church’s operations.

While some churches have left Presbyterian Church USA in recent months over its more lenient teachings on same-sex marriage and gay clergy, Senior Pastor Andrew Chaney said his church decided to split because of changing teachings on the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Bible and because governing bodies are becoming more involved in local churches.

He cited new language adopted by Presbyterian Church USA in a governing document that says members are united through diversity, including “theological conviction,” which means people of different faith beliefs are welcomed in the church. Chaney said First and Calvary members generally believe only one conviction should unite the church.

“This statement can lead to the position that we don’t have to have personal faith in Jesus Christ in order to be a Christ-follower, which heads down the path of universalism,” he said.

He said in an email to the newspaper that First and Calvary members also want the church to concentrate on its central mission of spreading the Gospel, rather than becoming involved in political issues.

There has been “40 years of leftward political involvement which included such diverse causes as support of Marxist rebels in Latin America and calls for various boycotts” of businesses, Chaney said.

The First and Calvary congregation sued the local governing body, called the John Calvin Presbytery, and recently received a restraining order and injunction preventing the Presbytery from changing locks on the building, disciplining First and Calvary employees, dissolving the church or interfering with normal operations.

The lawsuit is ultimately seeking to determine which group owns the First and Calvary Church property.

In a letter to First and Calvary, the local presbytery said it “has not ever threatened to remove a congregation from its building or to tamper with its ministry, and never will do so.” It urged First and Calvary to enter a “discernment” process that would allow the presbytery to meet with church members and decide whether to dismiss the church.

The letter also says Presbyterian Church USA will not recognize First and Calvary’s vote to leave the denomination because “this is not an issue on which the congregation votes, according to our polity, which all deacons, ruling the teaching elders have vowed to uphold.”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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