Distinctives

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a number of distinctives that set us apart from other Presbyterian and Reformed denominations.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND WESTMINSTER CONFESSION 

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith has undergone a number of revisions since it was originally produced in 1647. Not only has the EPC adopted some important revisions that bring it up to date, it has adopted a modern language version that has carefully maintained the integrity of the document while providing greater accessibility to 21st century readers. The Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms are our singular confessional standard. We affirm that it contains the system of doctrine taught by the Bible.

THE ESSENTIALS 

 

In addition to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we have developed “The Essentials of our Faith.” While we believe that all of our faith is important, some elements of that faith are absolutes. For example, it is essential that we agree on the meaning of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. On the other hand, we do not believe it is essential to agree on the timing of Christ’s second coming. The EPC therefore has set forth these core beliefs of the Christian faith upon which there must be agreement, but permits latitude and differences of opinion (that are biblically based) on those matters not considered essential to be a Christian.

THE RULING ELDER 

 

Part of the genius of Presbyterianism is the importance placed on the role of the Ruling Elder, the layperson, in the life of the church. When a denomination becomes clergy dominated, it tends to lose touch with the grassroots of the church. To maintain a good clergy/lay leader balance, the EPC provides for each church to send two Ruling Elders for each Teaching Elder (pastor) to meetings of the Presbytery and General Assembly. Also, the General Assembly Moderator switches each year between a Ruling Elder and a pastor.

THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH 

 

The EPC Constitution declares the “first duty” of the church is “to evangelize by extending the gospel both at home and abroad, leading others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” It makes clear that “good works” are not the gospel, but rather are the fruit of the gospel. The statement concludes, “the Church must never confuse its primary task of evangelism (the gospel) with the fruit of faith (good works)." This affirmation settles for us a dispute that has caused much division in our day, where some churches have been preoccupied with social change to the neglect of true spiritual change.

WOMEN IN ORDAINED OFFICE 

 

The understanding of the role of women in the life of the church varies widely. For example, one Presbyterian denomination mandates that women be elected as pastors, ruling elders, and deacons. Another prohibits this. Yet equally sincere, Bible-believing Christians differ on this issue. In the EPC, the decision to elect women as pastors, ruling elders and deacons is left to the discretion of the presbytery and congregation respectively. We believe that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God’s people should be free to follow His leading.

RIGHTS IN PERPETUITY 

 

The EPC recognizes that elements of our organization may change over time. However, there are certain features of our government that are unique and distinctive, and should never change. Among these are the rights of a local congregation to own and control its property, and to elect its own officers. To ensure that such distinctives are not the victims of time or circumstance, there is written into our Constitution a section entitled, “Limitations in Perpetuity.” Here are identified certain rights held in perpetuity by Christians, both individually and in congregations. These rights must always be guaranteed by the Church. Additions to this section may be made, but nothing can be taken away.

CONGREGATIONAL RIGHTS 

 

In addition to rights in perpetuity, the EPC affirms the right of the local congregation to call its own pastor. This means that no pastor can be placed in a congregation without its consent. Also, a local congregation has the right to withdraw from the EPC with its property.

VOLUNTARY GIVING 

 

The EPC does not have a “head tax” or “per capita tax.” We do not believe that one court of the Church has the right to put a “tax” with obligation on another court. For example, a presbytery does not have the right to put a “tax” on a local congregation. The Presbytery or General Assembly asks for funds through the use of “Per Member Asking” (PMA), which is a voluntary contribution of the local congregation to fund the mission of the Church. Gifts may always be designated.

POSITION PAPERS 

 

In the EPC, we have developed a system whereby the denomination may speak clearly and decisively on issues facing our society. We do not believe in taking political positions, but we do believe the Church has an obligation to speak its mind to our society on important issues. To do this, we develop Position Papers. Initially set forth as “preliminary,” the Paper is presented to the denomination for response and input. Then a committee studies it and makes a final recommendation to the General Assembly. The EPC has Position Papers on subjects such as abortion; the value of and respect for human life; human sexuality; divorce and remarriage; women in ordained office; and the problem of suffering, death, and dying.

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