Yet another megachurch has announced that it will spend millions to officially separate itself from Presbyterian Church (USA), a denomination that has, in recent years, experienced turmoil over what critics decry as an increasingly liberal theology.
Nearly 89 percent of the congregation at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, voted in October 2013 to leave the denomination and to join the more theologically conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians — a decision that carries with it a hefty price tag.
The church will need to pay $7.8 million in order to officially leave Presbyterian Church (USA) and keep its property, the Christian Post reported.
Leaders at Highland Park must raise and pay the sum, which is based in part on the fair market value of the property, by Nov. 4, 2014.
The settlement comes after the church filed a lawsuit against Grace Presbytery, a governing body of Presbyterian churches in Texas, seeking the split.
But rather than head to court, Highland Park decided to settle, coming to an agreement following contention and debate over how it would terminate the relationship.
“At that time Grace Presbytery had already approved their end of the settlement, so when [the church] voted to approve the settlement it was binding,” Highland Park communications director Zach House told the Post. “The primary reason was that after a lengthy process of discerning God’s direction on these issues, the session felt that settling was wise and was what our church was being called to do at this time.”
According to a statement from Presbyterian Church (USA), the $7.8 million sum allows for “a release of [Highland Park’s] obligations under the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s trust clause and ecclesiastical dismissal from the denomination.”
The denomination’s trust clause essentially calls for church property to be held in a trust to benefit Presbyterian Church (USA) as a whole. When disputes arise, congregations are generally forced to pay a lump sum in order to exit agreements with the denomination and retain their properties.
Despite the large price tag — which reportedly accounts for just 11 percent of the church’s assets — both sides seem content with the final agreement.
“We give thanks to God for this moment and trust that this settlement serves as a witness across the PC(USA) that the trust clause is an integral part of our constitution and will be taken seriously by Grace Presbytery,” Rev. Janet DeVries, general presbyter of Grace Presbytery, said in a statement. “We are pleased to have been able to mediate this situation and avoid a court trial.”
This news comes months after Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, another megachurch once associated with Presbyterian Church (USA), voted to officially leave the denomination over similar issues.
Officials there made the tough choice despite facing a $8.89 million cost for the church’s property and membership fees, Religion News Service reported at the time.
In a document published by Menlo Park last year, leaders described their reasons for seeking a split with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), noting that the church’s “evangelical identity around who Jesus is and our understanding of the authority of scripture are increasingly out of alignment” with the denomination as a whole.
Specifically, the church expressed concern that many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders do not believe in the deity of Jesus, nor do they embrace salvation through Christ. These are central tenets of most mainstream Christian churches, leading to a difficult ideological splintering.
The document cited a 2011 survey of pastors in the denomination who were asked for their level of agreement with the following statement: “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”
While 41 percent said they agreed or strong agreed with the statement, 45 percent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed — something Menlo Park leaders lamented.
(H/T: Christian Post)
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