August 31, 2023
Dear Cumberland Presbyterian Family,
The former Moderators of the General Assembly (GA) of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) signed below have profound reservations concerning the proposed Constitutional Amendments that are currently placed before our presbyteries. Like our church, we all stand at different theological perspectives on many issues except for our common love for our denomination. Our hope for its vibrant future compels us to pen this plea for preserving the foundational spirit of Cumberland Presbyterianism which is threatened by the proposed Constitutional Amendments. We pray that you take time for discernment before the impending vote to consider underlying concerns that cause us to stand united in opposition to its passage. Here are a few of the reasons why we are opposed to these Amendments:
-Will weaken the authority and power of lower judicatories (Synod, Presbytery, Session). The 1894 General Assembly endorsed Louisa Woosley as a lay evangelist. While many were not individually receptive to women in ministry, they recognized the power of the presbytery to ordain. The authority for the ordination of elders and deacons has always belonged to the local congregation. Likewise, our constitution grants each presbytery the responsibility to “receive, examine, dismiss, and license candidates and ordain them to ministry.” – 5.6 a. Constitution.
Individual congregations and presbyteries have the ability and the right to add to their bylaws additional standards for ordination. Some presbyteries and congregations have taken this step. The lower judicatories have always had and should continue to have these rights.
If these constitutional amendments pass, the power that belongs to the lower judicatories will be diminished. These actions would set a dangerous precedent for the future of our denomination where our form of Presbyterian government is threatened. The larger judicatories setting rules that usurp the rights and authority of the lower judicatories can lead to a legalistic form of top-down government.
Because the 1894 GA recognized the power that Nolin Presbytery had to ordain, the story of Louisa Woolsey is one we all celebrate to this day. By voting down these Constitutional Amendments, we will protect the rights of the local congregations and presbyteries that have been the foundation of the CPC for 213 years.
-Will not represent the identity of who we are (and always have been) as Cumberland Presbyterians. Who is the Cumberland Presbyterian Church? We are a denomination founded on the frontier and nurtured by the Gospel. We believe that God is at work through Jesus to reconcile all of humankind, never just a few. We welcome males and females alike into leadership roles, clergy, and laity. We believe that faith expression is a choice rather than a given. We declare our call to make not break disciples and to not allow our differences to overwhelm our sense of community. We believe in the sincerity of Jesus when he prayed for unity (John 17:20-21) and the clarity of Paul when he declared our oneness in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6).
On January 28, 2023, one of us watched online streamed worship services from three different Cumberland Presbyterian Churches. Each minister preached on the lectionary scripture Micah 6:1-8. Each interpreted the scripture differently with each having a unique perspective. Part of the genius of our denomination is that people are invited to be open to the Holy Spirit and glean teachings from the scriptures. We do not see things through the same lens, but we are all redeemed and loved by God in Christ and growing as disciples together.
We have a “Common Union” around Christ’s table and when we meet in various judicatories it is like a family reunion. Like families, there is a place for us all to belong, love and be loved, disagree, struggle, rejoice, and worship together. We seek to claim our identity as a “Whosoever Will” denomination. As Christ’s people, we deplore injustice and oppression (Confession of Faith 6.30). We partner with other denominations to form the church universal, realizing that we are not alone in our witness for God. We are diverse with ministries in Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Cambodia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong – Macau, Japan, México, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. We acknowledge that we have free will to disagree and choose where we stand in our faith but still hold firm to our common union in Christ Jesus.
-Will contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenant of grace which is central to our Confession of Faith. We believe that the proposed Amendments to our Constitution exhibit a spirit in direct contradiction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus violates the expectations of many faithful Jews of his time to teach the expansive, surprising, and all encompassing grace of God. His enemies among the scribes and Pharisees were scandalized by his association with those whom they thought they should shun – Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, Gentiles, and women who were not living in the closely confined roles defined in the Law. To each person, Jesus’ message, actions, and friendship were received as good news, Gospel. The marks of a disciple are the reflection of the Holy Spirit’s redemption and love through their lives. Any attempt to make any virtue (beyond faith which itself a gift) a condition of discipleship is a step into a slippery slope of works-based salvation. Cumberland Presbyterians have steadfastly rejected this theology (COF 4.01-4.23)
Our Confession of Faith is centered on the message of the Gospel: the one covenant of Grace. As we have long acknowledged, the central theme of our Confession is the explication of this covenant of Grace, exemplified in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).
-Will risk further separation between the CPC and Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America (CPCA). The Joint Committee on Amendments (JCA) met in March 2023 to discuss the Arkansas memorial referred from the 191st CPC GA regarding amendments to the Constitution. In response to a request from the CPCA, who stated they needed more time to consult with their leadership and were not ready to approve the proposed Amendments, a motion to postpone any action indefinitely was approved. The Permanent Judiciary Committee sent its report to both GAs. The 146th CPCA GA met in June 2023 and voted to return the proposed Amendments to the JCA with a “Non-Concurrence” vote. The 192nd CPC GA met in June 2023. A resolution was adopted to direct the JCA to meet during the week of the CPC GA and report directly to the CPC GA, setting aside a standing rule that all correspondence to GA be referred to a GA committee. A vote to send the proposed Amendments to CPC presbyteries passed by one vote. If the proposed Amendments are ratified by ¾ of the CPC presbyteries and become a part of the Constitution, there will be a notation that these Amendments apply only to the CPC, not the CPCA.
Considering the failed attempt to unify the CPC and CPCA denominations in the recent past, the actions of the 192nd CPC GA to move forward with presbyterial voting on the proposed Amendments without the concurrence of the CPCA risks further separation between the two denominations in terms of a lack of trust and goodwill. This challenges further interest in unifying sister denominations who share a Confession of Faith and Constitution.
In conclusion, *” We acknowledge that within both Cumberland Presbyterian denominations, there is a wide range of biblical understanding and interpretation. With that said, we should resolve- first and foremost-to love one another, and as an expression of that love to listen to each other, aﬃrming the even greater common ground we enjoy and embrace as Cumberland Presbyterians. Our goal need not be one hundred percent agreement on biblical interpretation, but rather a mature awareness and consideration of the diversity of theological perspectives that a global and multi-ethnic denomination manifests.
It would be helpful to lay aside the labels intended to diminish the faithfulness and motives of our brothers and sisters in Christ- conservative and liberal, evangelical, and traditional, right, and left- wing, along with the “isms” and “phobias” in currency today. If we agree that our calling is to serve God’s mission in the world, then a healthy dialog about strategies, ideologies, and emphases is more attainable, and genuine unity in Christ can grow.”
(*Unified Committee on Theology and Social Concerns Study Paper: A Question of Hermeneutics. Adopted in 2017 by the 187th General Assembly (CPC) and the 145th General Assembly (CPCA.)
As persons our beloved church has trusted with leadership in recent years, we humbly ask each minister and congregation to prayerfully consider what is at stake for our future. With gratitude for our Church family and thanksgiving for the amazing grace of God, we ask you to vote “NO” on the proposed Amendments.
|Grace and peace,|
|Robert D. Rush
|Don M. Tabor
|Linda H. Glenn
|Merlyn A. Alexander
|Thomas D. Campbell
- Recommendation to Reject the Proposed Amendments (Ed Adair)
- Japan Presbytery’s Response to the Proposed Amendments to the Constitution
- Reasons to Deny Proposed Amendments from Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians
- Proposed Constitutional Amendments (2023)