A Brief Comparison of EPC and ECO
February 14, 2012
As conservative/evangelical Presbyterian congregations and sessions discuss their options for responding to the liberal trends in the PCUSA, a question is voiced about the “leaving” option. Why do we need a new denomination (the future ECO) when we have the EPC in place now? What is the difference between transferring membership to the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the EPC)? I understand that the folks at Fellowship of Presbyterians are working on a comparison chart that goes into some detail about the various elements to consider, and it is going to take them awhile to make this public (probably months). This suggests to me that the matter is complicated and detail-ridden, so I am humble in my offering some general ideas in this post. Yes, that was a disclaimer.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church affirms the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms as its only system of doctrine. In general, it subscribes to a list of essential tenets, but offers each other liberty on matters it does not deem essential, such as the ordination of women and the exercise of charismatic gifts. The essentials, however, are listed as these:
1. All Scripture is the true, infallible Word of God, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks. Sola Scriptura.
2. God is sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, existing in three Persons. Soli Dei gloria.
3. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, was incarnated by miraculous conception and virgin birth, died on the cross a sacrifice for human sins and rose bodily from the dead to ascend into heaven where his reigns. Solo Christo.
4. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and applies the saving work to human hearts, convicting of sin, indwelling, empowering, instructing, gifting for service, and sealing believers for the day of redemption.
5. Human beings in their natural state are estranged from God and rely solely upon the work of God’s free grace for salvation, justification by faith, and the regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Sola fide, sola gratia.
6. The true Church is found in congregations where the Word is preached in its purity, the sacraments are administered in their integrity, and scriptural discipline is practiced in loving fellowship.
7. Jesus will come again personally, visibly, and bodily, to judge the living and the dead, to consummate history and God’s eternal plan.
8. The Great Commission requires all believers to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.
According to the EPC website the denomination is small, with approximately 115,000 members in approximately 300 congregations, organized into eight presbyteries plus the PCUSA transitional presbytery. However, doing the math, an EPC church has an average of 383 members, compared to the PCUSA average of 191. The median size of congregations in the PCUSA is now 95 according to denominational reports. (A similar statistic is not available from the EPC).
The ECO embraces the witness of the entire Book of Confessions now held by the PCUSA, which includes Westminster standards but ranges from the Apostles’ Creed to the Brief Statement of Faith adopted shortly after the 1983 reunion. Its Theology Project enumerates essentials in perhaps more nuanced language than the EPC list (more on that tomorrow). While the EPC is inconsistent on the matter of accepting women’s ordination (it is “local option” by presbytery), the ECO makes it a hallmark. Further, the EPC has a more developed structure than the ECO, which seeks to stay “lean and mean” for missional movement and flexibility.
If you are interested in a very similar governing style, are flexible on the matter of women’s ordination, are more at ease with a single doctrinal confession, and want to join a body that is already up and running, it would seem that the EPC is ready to receive you. If you do not want to be shackled with a lot of governing red-tape and perceive yourself to be more missional in spirit than perhaps the EPC can accommodate, the ECO may be for you. The ECO retains the Book of Confessions in its entirety, which to some is problematic, but if you want continuity with the PCUSA, ECO will retain the spirit without as much regulation.