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FPC Blog

Frequently Asked Questions about FPC and Sunday's Vote

Posted by FPC Staff on with 2 Comments

First Presbyterian Church, Starkville, MS

FAQ on 8/21/16 Corporate Meeting and Disaffiliation Voting

1. What does it mean to be Presbyterian?

Presbyterian churches are characterized by a representative form of government that is connectional in nature. Each congregation elects elders to sit with pastors on a session, which is the governing body of the local church. Each church belongs to a Presbytery, a
regional body that supervises and serves the local churches in its area. Representatives from each Presbytery come together every other year at General Assembly, a national meeting, where denomination-wide policies are created or modified by vote.

2. What is the PCUSA?

The Presbyterian Church (USA), or PCUSA, was formed in 1983 when the two largest Presbyterian denominations in the United States merged. The PCUSA is one of at least 9 Presbyterian denominations in the United States. The PCUSA is governed by the Book
of Order and the Book of Confessions. FPC Starkville became associated with the PCUSA at the time of the merger in 1983.

3. What influence does the PCUSA have over our church?

The influence of the PCUSA over FPC Starkville comes in both how we govern the church (polity) and in our theology. We have a Book of Order which contains sections on church government, discipline and worship. We also have a Book of Confessions which consists of 11 historic confessions of faith by which we agree to be guided. The continuing tension we live under in the PCUSA is that both of these important documents are subject to change. Many of our differences center on the ongoing changes and proposals for change in The Book of Order and Book of Confessions.

4. What are the main reasons that we are considering separating from the PCUSA?

The PCUSA is rapidly losing members as it continually moves further from Biblical standards. The denomination has lost half its membership since 1983. Our church opposes the PCUSA on a number of theological and moral issues and it is becoming increasingly difficult to move forward faithfully without the constant distraction of turmoil over denominational issues.

While the most recent examples of the PCUSA General Assembly worship’s including an Islamic prayer to Allah at this year’s General Assembly, the PCUSA’s radical elimination of historic ordination standards, and the PCUSA’s redefinition of marriage have alerted FPC members to the growing theological tension that exists between the PCUSA and our congregation – none of these concerns alone are the main reasons we believe that we must now distance ourselves from the PCUSA denomination. The main reasons are our foundational commitment

        (a) to Jesus Christ -- Who says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [John 14:6]

         -- and--
        (b) to Biblical Authority.

Over the years, the PCUSA’s increasing relativism about Scriptural interpretation has called into question foundational beliefs of our church such as the nature of the Trinity, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and Biblical teaching on the covenants of marriage. There is a growing segment of the PCUSA denomination whose theological viewpoints seek to undermine the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. The recent moves to redefine worship and marriage and to the departure from ordination standards from clear biblical principles are simply some of the many examples of the deeper problem.

This is neither a recent nor a last minute decision for this congregation. In 2014 the Session of this church began a discernment process to determine if PCUSA was the denomination most closely adhering to the “Essentials of Faith’ as unanimously adopted by the leadership of this church. In October 2014, our Presbytery adopted a Dismissal Policy. We were following that process until February 2015, when our Presbytery established an administrative commission with ultimate powers to assume “original jurisdiction” of FPC – which would replace FPC’s Session – and to dissolve the pastoral relationship, if the commission so determined. Thus, the Presbytery of St. Andrew gave the commission the power to remove our minister and church leadership, as well as seize control of our church property. This led the leadership of this church to file a court action to protect and determine the ownership of our property.

The changes in the PCUSA that have taken place in recent years prompted the Session to ask two questions. First, “How does First Presbyterian Church Starkville and our adopted “Essential Tenants of Faith” fit with PCUSA from a theological and evangelical
perspective?” And second, “Is association with the PCUSA the best way for our church to fulfill God’s call to mission and ministry?” For a listing of events which brought us to where we are today, see the attached timeline- Timeline to FPC Dismissal.

These issues have been, and continue to be, disruptive to the life of our church. For years we have been dedicating time, talent and resources to internal struggles. We believe that we should be affiliated with a denomination that supports our mission, and one that does not devote most of its energies to political issues. Your elected session recommends disaffiliation in order to pursue a more effective ministry and mission.

5. Are these issues important enough to lead us to consider leaving for another denomination?

Yes. The issues involved are neither peripheral nor incidental but deal with the essential beliefs, traditions, values, and ethics of the Christian faith. The issues at stake deal with the nature and will of God, the role and authority of Scripture, the person and work of
Jesus, and the need and means of salvation. In May 2014, after study, prayer and conversation, the diaconate and session of FPC Starkville unanimously adopted “The Essentials of our Faith” (which can be found on the Church website). We feel that the PCUSA denomination continues to drift further from these cornerstone pillars of our faith. Further, we feel that abandoning or minimizing these principles is nothing less than rejecting the central tenets and ethics of our Christian faith.

6. Can you provide specific examples of these concerns?

First: The PCUSA position that “the Bible is inspired in the sense that God speaks through it, but not every word necessarily comes from God” allows for a continual erosion of the Reformed assertion that the Bible is our sole and primary standard for all matters of life and faith.

Second: While the PCUSA advocates “trust in the one triune God” it does not at the same time hold inviolable the traditional designations of the persons of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, designations such as “compassionate mother, beloved child, and life-giving womb” are lifted up as being just as valid and appropriate as the traditional language. Such language, in
addition to opening the door to idolatrous worship, only adds to the confusion many people have about the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.

Third: The change in ordination standards officially repealed the requirement for adherence to biblical sexual standards for the ordination of clergy and lay leaders. Further examples could be cited. While we understand these examples are symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself, they do show clear evidence of a fundamental problem with the PCUSA in regard to Scripture,
authority, Christology, and Reformed tenets of the faith. There is no discernable effort by PCUSA to return to traditional Biblical tenets.

Fourth: At the most recent PCUSA General Assembly, the opening prayer was offered by an Islamic Imam to Allah, placing Jesus in the position of equality with Mohammed and other prophets. When commissioners objected to these proceeding, the only response was an apology to anyone that was offended. This completely ignores a basic, central belief in one God and one salvation through
Jesus Christ and His death on the cross and overlooks the possibility that perhaps it offended the God in whom we trust and believe.

Fifth: Again, at the most recent General Assembly, a proposal was approved regarding the sacrament of communion. It is proposed to no longer be a sacrament restricted to baptized believers, but be a more open table for anyone who wants to partake, regardless of whether they are baptized Christians.

7. Is this just about homosexuality?

No. The primary issue is the role and authority of Scripture and how it governs our daily life. Questions over the denomination’s position on homosexuality may have forced the issue for some in the PCUSA several years ago, but these are most certainly not what our current debate or struggle is about, nor is it the reason we feel it necessary to leave the PCUSA. We are all sinners and must confess those sins before God, and our leadership is committed to bringing the Good News of God’s love to all. However the leadership of a church should be held to a higher example as role models to the congregation. In reality, the new ordination standards for ministers and elders loosen sexual standards outside of marriage for all leaders of the church. This reaches to the core issues of repentance of sin, Scripture and its place, role, and authority in the church.

8. What is First Presbyterian Church PCUSA, Inc. of Starkville, Mississippi?

This is the name under which our church incorporated in 2003. It is a Non Profit Corporation that is in good standing with the State of Mississippi.

9. Who are the shareholders of First Presbyterian Church PCUSA, Inc. of Starkville, Mississippi?

All members of FPC Starkville are shareholders in this corporate organization.

10. Who owns the FPC Starkville property?

According to the most recent court ruling, First Presbyterian Church PCUSA, Inc. of Starkville, Mississippi, holds legal title to its property. A copy of the full court ruling can be found on the Church website (Click here).

11. Does FPC Starkville have any outstanding loans to the PCUSA?

No. Nor does FPC Starkville currently have any financial dependence upon the PCUSA.

12. Where are we going?

The first step the session and corporate board of directors recommends to disaffiliate with the PCUSA for the reasons listed above. If the corporate membership (which is our current congregation) votes to affirm this recommendation, we will begin a process to determine which reformed body is best suited for the mission of our Church. This process will involve input from members, educational sessions and ultimately a vote by the congregation to join a different denomination.

13. What voting percentage is required to approve the recommended proposals?

All votes on August 21 will require a simple majority (50% +1) as determined by Mississippi corporate law.

14. What happens to members who do not support the dismissal from PCUSA and affiliation with another Presbyterian denomination?

If the vote to disaffiliate passes, members who do not vote in favor to disaffiliate from the PCUSA are certainly welcomed and strongly encouraged to continue to be part of FPC Starkville. Those who do not desire to remain members of FPC Starkville, however, and who wish to continue to be part of the PCUSA will be welcomed to another PCUSA congregation in the area.

15. Who can vote?

Every member of FPC Starkville who was on the church’s active role as of August 10, 2016 and attends the called meeting of the corporation on August 21 will be allowed to vote. This includes all youth members on the church roll that have completed confirmation and have been subsequently received by the Session.

16. How do I know if I am on the roll?

The elected Session maintains the membership roll of the congregation and corporate shareholders. Members are added to the roll by joining through baptism, letter or by affirmation of faith and subsequent approval by the Session. Members are removed by the roll by: joining the church triumphant (death), purging the roll (last done in 2011) or by written letter by the members or receiving congregation. All changes to the church roll have to be voted on and approved by the Session. If you have received this communication by mail or email it is likely that you are on the church roll.

17. Will there be any change in the pastor’s salary?

No. Pastoral wages are determined by FPC Starkville and will not change.

18. Can I vote by proxy or absentee ballot?

No. Absentee ballots or ballots by proxy are not permitted; all members must be present to vote.

19. What will happen if St. Andrews Presbytery Administrative Commission assumes “original jurisdiction” and removes the elected Session of FPC Starkville?

This action, while extreme in nature, has been threatened by the Presbytery and Administrative Commission since February 2015 and is supposedly allowed by the PCUSA Book of Order. The Administrative Commission may replace the Session and undertake ecclesiastical duties only; however, they are not permitted by Mississippi State Law to remove or replace the Board of Directors of First Presbyterian Church PCUSA Inc. Corporate Body, which consists of your existing elected Session. Further, they are prohibited from interfering with any property matters that the Corporate Body or its shareholders may wish to undertake, including a meeting to vote on corporate matters.

20. Will there still be a vote if St. Andrews Presbytery Administrative Commission assumes “original jurisdiction” and removes the elected Session of FPC Starkville?

YES! This meeting is a congregational/corporate meeting and is protected by Mississippi Corporate law. Individual members and shareholders have waited for years to express their opinion on the direction of this body as well as the denomination. This is each
person’s opportunity to provide feedback.

21. What can I do as a congregational member and shareholder of First Presbyterian Church?

First, and most importantly, Pray. Each person must individually seek the guidance and direction of God in these important matters. Please pray for this congregation, the elected Session, and our Pastor. Pray also for unity within our body- we are all one family, and we should all be respectful, loving, and compassionate to one another- even if we might disagree. Finally, you should show up on Sunday, August 21, and vote to let your voice be heard.

Psalm 133
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

First Presbyterian Church, Starkville, MS
Timeline to FPC Dismissal

July 2010 General Assembly changed PCUSA ordination standards so that ordained ministers and church officers no longer needed to commit to be faithful in marriage between one man and one woman or to remain chaste when unmarried.

December 2011 Rev. Olin McBride departed FPC

March 2012 Pastor Nominating Committee formed.

July 1, 2013 Rev. Joey Sherrard departs. Rev. Sam Lane arrives as Interim.

July 2012 General Assembly defeated a resolution to return ordination standards to the “fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness” standard. Also adopted a statement that “acknowledges that faithful Presbyterians hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning morality of committed, same‐gender relationships and that the Presbyterian Church USA does not have one interpretation of Scripture in this matter.

November 1, 2013 Rev. Martin Lifer arrives

May 4, 2014 FPC adopts and distributes “Essentials of Our Faith” document. (Click here)

June, 2014 General Assembly (GA) approves the redefinition of marriage as “between two people” rather than “one man and one woman.” Also voted to divest from companies like Caterpillar, Hewlett‐Packard and Motorola Solutions in protest against Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

November 18, 2014 Presbytery adopts “Policy on Steps in Dismissal Process”. FPC reacts by getting in line with the new policy even though we were ahead of the timeline.

February 10, 2015 Regular Presbytery Meeting held at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Starkville. Policy on Steps in Dismissal Process amended to include authorization to “dissolve pastoral relationship” and “assume original jurisdiction” without any prior notice or discussion with FPC Pastor or Session.

February 13, 2015 Presbytery forms an Administrative Commission for FPC Starkville by letter. By email, Glen Beckham, Elder of FPC Greenwood objects to FPC’s treatment at the Presbytery meeting.

February 16, 2015 Rev. Rusty Douglas, Pastor, FPC Greenwood sends a 3‐page letter to Presbytery “to raise serious concerns” about the way Presbytery conducted the Presbytery meeting on February 10 and how FPC Starkville’s Pastor and Session were treated. Douglas concludes “they (FPC Starkville) can only feel betrayed. Whatever trust there was – gone.” “It appears the Presbytery wants to intimidate young ministers, little churches and new Elders…”

April 2015 FPC Session files a Petition for Declaratory Judgement to determine ownership of FPC property. Also, a temporary restraining order to prevent any interference with FPC property until property ownership is settled by the court.

April 29, 2015 Temporary restraining order is made permanent by the court until final ruling.

May 2105 FPC informational discussions held during May to update members about litigation.

June 4, 2015 Letter of update to FPC members from the Property Stewardship Commission of FPC. Also, FPC Preservation Fund opened.

June 14, 2015 Information sessions held with representatives of EPC denomination.

September 1, 2015 Information sessions planned and ready to convene with representatives of ECO when the Administrative Commission sent word that the meeting was “illegal” under the dismissal policy and we did not proceed with the meeting. FPC embarrassed and planning and travel costs lost.

July 27, 2016 Chancery Court decision announced. FPC is the sole owner of its property.

August 8, 2016 FPC Session sends letter to members explaining the court decision.

August 10, 2106 Administrative Commission meets with FPC Starkville Session. Selected FPC members allowed to sit in meeting originally set as between AC and Session only. No resolution found.


Carol Lynn Wade Crouse August 29, 2016 3:47pm

August 31 Meeting at that time who will
legally represent the Church
members who want to disaffiliate from PCUSA.
How likely will this end up being a court decision.
PCUSA mentioned appealing first court case is that still their stance?
Have the elders already been
preselected by PCUSA for candiates at Aug 31st meeting and what is each ones
stance regarding affilication.

Carol Lynn Crouse August 30, 2016 3:44pm

I did not realize my comments would be posted 8-29 but I would like to say how proud I am of Pastor Martin Lifer,
the Session and Members of
the FPC in standing firm for
God and his word.