This week the New Wineskins Association of Churches met at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando to discuss leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Officially, they were lamenting how unfaithful the PC (USA) is, and the EPC was there to "stand with" the New Wineskins dissidents. But the main agenda was clear. In fact, it is clear that New Wineskins, which began as a conservative ginger group, has turned into the main vehicle of the schism. The leaders of New Wineskins and the EPC have been talking about a merger since at least the 2006 General Assembly, which adopted the Peace, Unity, and Purity report.
151 congregations have signed on to the New Wineskins essential tenets. 130 of them sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. The EPC has 182 congregations with 75, 000 members. This compares to the 11,000 congregations and over 2 million members of the PC (USA). The EPC appeals to dissidents in the mainline denomination more than the larger Presbyterian Church of America does because the EPC will (in theory) ordain women, while the PCA will not.
New Wineskins has sensibly not insisted that its member churches leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), nor that they join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Instead, co-moderator Dean Weaver proposed two "faithful options": leave the denomination for a better one, or stay in place as a dissident congregation (which is what they are doing now).
The EPC, for its part, has made a sensible proposal as well. They invite any New Wineskins congregations, as well as other dissident congregations not part of New Wineskins, to form a non-geographical New Wineskins Presbytery for a five-year transitional period.
I don't think all the New Wineskins churches will leave the PC (USA), nor even all the congregations that sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. Still, if even half of them join the EPC, they will make the latter denomination half again larger. And the New Wineskins leaders will go from marginalized dissidents in the old church, to instantly prominent leaders of the new.
I am distressed that the New Wineskins folks are trying to leave already. They feared that bad things might happen as a result of the PUP report. I, too, am waiting to see if the "local application" of the church's essential tenets really will degenerate into "local option," as some conservatives fear – but it hasn't happened yet. I remain hopeful that by returning to the traditional Presbyterian standards of the Adopting Act of 1729 we will, instead, turn back some of the politically correct excesses that beset the church from the other side. In any case, though, I think we should all work for a good outcome, and wait to see what it really is.
It is probably inevitable that some of the New Wineskins churches will leave. I think that if the overwhelming majority of a congregation want to go, the Presbyterian Church (USA) should let them, and wish them godspeed. The congregation should buy their building for a reasonable amount. The PC(USA) will most likely be losing a good location, and should suck it up. If the big church is reasonable with dissidents, there will be fewer of them. I don't want them to go, but I don't want the denomination to be a dog in the manger, either.