While reacting to the abuses of the church in the 16th century, the Reformed wing of the Reformation has roots extending back to Bernard of Clairvaux of the 12th and Augustine of the 4th century. The Reformed movement spread throughout western and northern Europe in the 17th century—the Westminster Confession of Faith was written at mid-century in England.
Our spiritual ancestors came to North America during the 17th century. Francis Makemie, Jonathan Dickinson, and William Tennent were leaders who helped establish the Presbyterian church in North America, where the first presbytery was formed in 1709. A link in our historical chain is Jonathan Edwards, who triggered the First Great Awakening in New England in the mid-18th century.
IN THE BEGINNING
In late 1980, a group of pastors and elders began meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, for prayer and planning. They came from the two mainline Presbyterian denominations at the time, the United Presbyterian Church of the USA (UPCUSA—the “northern church”) and the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS—the “southern church”). These leaders had become increasingly distressed by theological liberalism and institutional resistance to change in their denominations. They wanted to form a Church that took seriously the Bible, the theology of the historic confessions of the faith, and the evangelical fervor of the founders of American Presbyterianism. They envisioned a denomination that was really evangelical and really Presbyterian; hence the name. In addition, the motto, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-essentials Liberty, in All Things Charity; Truth in Love,” was adopted.
IN ALL THINGS—CHARITY (TRUTH IN LOVE)
The final statement of our motto—which really is our culture—speaks of love. We are fellow pilgrims, walking together with our Lord. We have individually received His charity toward us, so we extend that charity to each other. We speak the truth to define our faith and share it with others. We speak that truth with love for our brothers and sisters, and for our Savior and Lord.
A PRESENT AND FUTURE HOPE
The EPC slowly grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Most of this growth came from churches departing the mainline Presbyterian bodies. In addition, successful church planting was occurring. The EPC went global in 1987, when churches in Argentina formed a presbytery that joined us. In 2004, this presbytery was released as a national church with which we enjoy fraternal relations.
At the beginning of the new century, a sense of unease and dissatisfaction became evident as leaders concluded that “doing church” in the 21st century was different from doing it in the 20th century. The 2005 General Assembly created a Long Range Planning Committee to explore the future of the denomination. This committee discovered and embraced “missional” as a key element of effective church ministry and outreach in the 21st century. “Missional” was added to the commitments of the EPC in 2009—the EPC is a denomination of Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical, and Missional churches.
While the EPC was discussing missional church, the New Wineskins (a renewal group among mainline Presbyterians) was doing the same. In 2006, leaders of the EPC and the New Wineskins met for the first time. What ultimately resulted was the 2007 creation of transitional presbyteries and transitional membership for churches and ministers seeking to depart their current denomination and come to the EPC. At the launch of that initiative, the EPC was 182 churches with approximately 75,000 members. Within 8 years we more than tripled to 570 churches. The EPC now is more than 630 churches, roughly 8 percent of which are church plants.
We believe that God created the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to be a significant part of His plan for the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth, the expansion of His Kingdom, and the renewal of believers. It is our conviction that, like the ancient Queen Esther, God has brought us together for such a time as this.
For an in-depth history, see Liberty in Non-Essentials: The Story of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.