John Ortberg’s Menlo Park Presbyterian votes to leave PCUSA despite $8 million fee

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Well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. Photo courtesy of Zondervan

Well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. Photo courtesy of Zondervan

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(RNS) Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church with about 4,000 members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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  • John McGrath

    I don’t know Calbvinist teaching much, but wouldn’t predestination mean that you might answer no to “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”?

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  • Larry

    Predestination is the Protestant answer to the Catholic “Natural Law”. Meaning it is essentially a nonsense term for whatever the clergy/theologian wants it to mean to fit the given circumstances.

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  • Alex

    I’m curious as to why the ECO has been established. If conservative Presbyterians are disgruntled by the theological liberalism in the PCUSA, why don’t they join the PCA? Can someone shed some light on this?

  • Doug

    among other reasons, PCA does not ordain women, and most all of these departing congregations do believe in women’s ordination,d

  • A lot of them do join the PCA, especially if they agree that ordaining women should be optional. There is also the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The ECO seems to have been started as an extra-denominational organization that would cover the various kinds of congregations that are leaving the PCUSA. At this point, it’s a buyer’s market for break-away denominations, so I’m sure part of it is just which one makes the best home.

  • The question isn’t really used as a theologically deep or nuanced one. It is just a litmus-test. To be accepted as a conservative, one has to believe in exclusivity of salvation in Jesus. Yes, a Calvinist could say that God would elect whomever God elects for salvation, regardless of what they say they believe, but the question isn’t meant to go that far. It is just a boundary-marker.

  • Funny thing, that being willing to even consider that non-Christians aren’t all hell-bound has somehow become the same thing as not believing in Jesus.

  • Sarah

    PCA is too conservative for them in that it won’t allow ordination of women, or even allow women to teach adult men.

  • Tyson

    That would be incorrect. “Predestination” as you refer, in the reformed tradition, would indicate those who were elected before the beginning of time to know the saving power of God in Jesus. Not to be saved independent of Jesus. Rather to be clothed in the rightiousness of Christ despite being unrighteousness. “Predestination or election” presupposes that none of the work of salvation was done by the individual I.e….I made the salvific choice to chose God. But rather would suggest that The good work of salvation belongs to God alone through the work of the cross.
    Christian traditions that stress human free will tend to give more credit to the individual for their own salvation and in my humble opinion strip God of the glory deserved for the work of attainment in Christ.

  • Jimi

    No ones going to the PCA. Their all going EPC or ECO. PCA congregations are going to the EPC by the dozens.

  • Doug Lawrence

    I believe that my friend and former MPPC colleague, John Ortberg, would agree that it is not “his” church, but, rather, “His” church.

    I understand that using the names of well-known personalities encourages readership of an article, but in a church in which Jesus Christ is viewed as head, it might be a distraction.

    I don’t know that this is a better headline, but it is equally, and perhaps more accurately, descriptive…

    “The church John Ortberg pastors votes to leave the PCUSA at a cost of more than 8 million dollars!”

  • David

    ECO was formed to enable a much easier transition for PCUSA congregations who no longer believed they could, in good conscience, remain in the PCSUA. ECO is basically the PCUSA with more emphasis to actually adhering to the confessional and biblical standards that the PCUSA has. The EPC would be the other most obvious choice (and hundreds of congregations are coming into the EPC), but the ordination of women is left up to the presbyteries (although, in the EPC book of order there is an allowance for congregations who want to call women as teaching elders to join the adjacent presbytery if their current presbytery won’t ordain women as teaching elders). PCA is much more conservative and strict in their confessional standards, and the OPC is even further conservative. So ECO remains the most natural fit for most churches, particularly since the whole structure was developed through the collaboration of numerous like-minded PCUSA elders and churches.

  • Tracy

    Ortberg quotes C.S. Lewis all the time. Would he refuse to be a part of the same church because Lewis held open the door to universalism?

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  • Nick

    Hundreds, huh? Interesting, because the EPC website itself only claims 260 churches… You may want to re-check your math.

  • Andrei

    A value of 260 churches is referred to as hundreds according to statistics and mathematics!! You may want to go back to school before you thrash on a person’s comments because you don’t agree with what they said.

    Sincerely, someone who knows what they’re talking about.

  • Ada

    I’m curious as to when and how Lewis “held open the door to universalism”, as it seems counter to everything I’ve ever read or heard of Lewis.

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  • Michael

    Read your Bible folks. Know your Bible. That will solve the confusion.

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  • Try The Last Battle.

    Lewis was not an evangelical. He believed in purgatory. He certainly wasn’t a ‘party’ Anglo-Catholic but his theology fits more comfortably within Sacramental Christian Orthodoxy.

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  • Maribeth

    Edward, Lewis did not ‘open the door to universalism’ in The Last Battle. What he suggested was that a person can be following Christ all his life without knowing it, which is not at all the same thing.

    Yes, Lewis was wrong in some points. However, that does not mean we can’t learn from his insights.

  • Wayne Wilson

    No, it means those who have put their faith in Jesus were predestined and called to do so as a work of grace.

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  • CG

    The OP said that “hundreds of congregations are _coming into_ the EPC” which seems like an exaggeration unless they currently have a lot in process of coming in. Which could be the case.

  • Gordon

    March 9, 2014

    One wonders why the PCUSA would take 8.89 from a local Congregation that wishes to disassociate itself fromn the PCUSA. The money clearly was raised and belongs in Menlo Park. The PCUSA is, apparently, merely interested in enhancing the coffers of its headquarters in Kentucky. What did Christ do with the money changers?

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  • Richard

    I would love to know where you get the idea that PCA congregations are going to the EPC by the dozens…

  • John Anderson

    “The church also cited difference in mission. For example, the local Presbytery of San Francisco adopted resolutions calling for pulling investments in area employers such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola because of their business with the government of Israel. Menlo Park considered the resolutions a distraction from its core mission.”

    Is there a dis-connect or confusion on the part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church? Disinvesting from companies who contribute to violent oppression is not a distraction from our core mission in Christ. One cannot decry the lack of Christ’s authority in our denomination and then in the next breath disclaim the consequence of that authority, which prevents others, as Ortberg says, from “entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought”. The Presbytery of San Francisco affirmed that we cannot be financially complicit in the discrimination and death of others as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar supply the Israeli military with technology supportive of the occupation and ethnic cleansing of a people. I trust that Menlo would affirm our core mission is to care more about human rights than corporations, integrity more than profits and the imprisonment of children over personal riches.

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  • Dean Snyder

    It’s been said, but believing in “salvation through faith in Christ” and agreeing with the statement “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved” are not necessarily the same thing.

  • Jim

    You should learn more about Israel’s history and the severe oppression they suffered at the hands of ALL their Muslim neighbors- Jordan, Egypt, Syria, etc. I agree the Palestinians have suffered, but the villain is not Israel. They have a right to defend themselves from enemies, and they have real enemies in the Gaza and West Bank. Plus, the territory ‘given’ to them by the UN charter was overwhelmingly owned by Jews. One must see the situation from the beginning, not just as the current liberal press paints it. If the Palestinians/Arabs were innocent, why won’t they accept Israel’s right to exist?

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  • Tom Eggebeen

    Think of it as a divorce in which one of the partners has fallen in love with someone else and wants to leave.

    Over the years, the Presbytery has provided all kinds of services, including guarantees on all borrowed monies, overseeing the pastors and seeing to it that irregularities not occur. We are a connectional church with lots of checks and balances built in.

    Now in a divorce, Menlo Park pays to gain property held in trust for the Presbyterian Church; it also pays ahead, if you will, for the sake of the larger mission of the Presbyterian Churches in that area (the Presbytery).

    It’s the fair and right thing to do.

    Though I believe saddling the church with this enormous payout will burden the church for a long time. When Ortberg came to Menlo Park from Willow Creek, I was grateful, but it wasn’t long before his interests were revealed – to join with those of the Lay Committee and others who’ve wanted to deconstructed the PCUSA in the hopes of finding the ever-elusive “purity” at the expense of unity.

    Menlo Park, and others like it, has mixed motives: 1) belief that association with PCUSA is a handicap; 2) refusal to receive gays and lesbians as full-fledged human beings and Christians; 3) dreams of theological purity; 4) power – nothing like being a big fish in a small pond; 5) nothing like a divorce from the “bad guys” to energize a congregation, and 6) memories of the “Angela Davis Affair,” hatred of Communism and a deep allegiance to a Capitalist Free Market economy (read GOP).

    The payout will enable the Presbytery to continue its ministries, funding new church-developments, assisting congregations in transition and financing grants to area projects.

  • Stephanie

    I was recently at an EPC conference in Denver and the stated clerk who spoke said that, with all the churches currently in transition, that the number by the end of 2014 will be over 500.

  • I believe there’s nothing wrong with their move. It’s like going for a company who doesn’t provide the best customer support for you – just leave. It’s their prerogative and I’m sure they’ve thought about their decision over and over again.

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  • Click on my name for a spreadsheet of churches which have left or are leaving the PCUSA. By my count, 255 of them subsequently affiliated with the EPC, and several others which have split, with part of the old church affiliating with the EPC. (Thanks to Laymen.org for the data.)

  • Another 156 subsequently affiliated with the ECO, even though that denomination is only about three years old.

  • Correction: that should have been “layman.org” rather than “laymen.org.” Sorry!

  • Rick Nelson

    Calvin never could explain the concept of predestination because he also contended that the decisions and mysteries of God are unfathomable with the finite human mind. Presbyterians of today, especially PCUSA are distancing themselves from the misconceptions that God picks and chooses at random and do not believe that God would condemn someone when Jesus made comments that God loves everyone, but some reject Him and do not accept His grace. And Presbyterians are historically known for having a strong mission force, which would be contrary to strict predestination which implies that some are destined to be saved regardless of their conduct or acceptance of God’s grace, while others are damned with no chance of redemption.

  • Rick Nelson

    There are subtle differences mostly in polity. Their theology is similar and much more conservative and traditional than the PCUSA. The PCA has been around for a long time (1973) while the ECO was established in 2012. The PCA is more strictly congregational whereas ECO believes in the power of synods (or presbyteries) which is more like the PCUSA. The ECO will ordain women pastors (but not homosexuals as it views homosexuality as a sin as does the PCA) and PCA does not ordain women. The ECO also has kept the PCUSA ‘s Book of Confessions which the PCA rejects. The ECO is becoming increasingly popular among those who want the church to be the way the PCUSA once was before its migration toward a secular agenda which is viewed as much too liberal for those who are going to ECO.