Another Protestant denomination?
That’s a common question we get from those looking on from the outside and wanting to know more about Evangel, and it’s not a bad question. After all, over two-thirds of the adults in the United States identify as Christians, and slightly less than half identify as Protestant. That many Protestants – roughly 150 million – must represent a huge number of churches. Surely our churches can find a denomination or association worth affiliating with, right?
Well, it’s complicated. If you’re reading these words, you probably recognize that the United States has been turning away from its Protestant roots for many generations now. Of those 150 million who identify as Christian, many millions deny basic Christian truths like, “Jesus is God” or “the Bible is the Word of God.”
Narrowing things down a bit further, roughly a quarter of the United States adult population are Evangelical Protestants. And then, when you narrow it down to Evangelical Protestant churches that are either reformed or presbyterian, that percentage shrinks to around 1% of the adult population, or roughly three million people.
Three million people is still a lot of people, and, sadly, they do represent a large number of different denominations and associations that have a long history of division. And so the question remains: why another denomination?
If you take the time to read our commitments page (and I hope you do), you’ll see that we are Westminsterian in our theology – which is to say, reformed and evangelical – and presbyterian in polity. This is pretty standard stuff in our theological neck of the woods, and if we had left it at that, our churches may very well have been able to join another denomination. That leads us to what sets us apart…
So do you baptize babies or not?
Normally, particular churches and denominations with our same theological commitments declare themselves to hold to either the credo-baptist or the paedo-baptist position on baptism. That is to say, some of them think it’s good and proper to baptize the infants of Christian parents (such as the Presbyterian Church in America or the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church), while others believe that a person should be baptized when he can make a personal and credible profession of faith (such as the Southern Baptist Convention). In either kind of church, leniency on this point is sometimes permitted for church membership but never, or very rarely, for church officers. But as we specify in our BCO, churches who join Evangel Presbytery may declare in their bylaws that their officers “must be exclusively credo-baptist, exclusively paedobaptist, or may be comprised of both.”
So while there have been separate credo-baptist and paedo-baptist churches for centuries, there are few examples in church history of churches who accept both positions simultaneously, and very few denominations today who do so. Our congregations have many friends on both sides of the debate, but there simply weren’t very many willing to officially associate with us given our long-standing commitment to freedom on the time and mode of baptism. We did carefully consider the few that exist, but decided that our differences in other areas – whether cultural or theological – were too significant to set aside. And so here we are.
Aren’t you just being schismatic?
In a word, no.
Evangel Presbytery grew organically out of the brotherhood of like-minded churches. We share theological commitments and cultural commitments, and we love one another. We’re committed to the three marks of the church: pure preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the conscientious exercise of church discipline. What’s schismatic about that?
On top of that, we feel that our open-handed position on baptism is good for our churches and a challenge to long-standing factions in the reformed church which grieve the Lord. That’s the very opposite of being schismatic!
In future posts, we hope to write more about how each of our churches were drawn to form a new presbytery. Even as we build, we are delighted to see God bless other Reformed and Evangelical denominations. The fields are white for the harvest.