Early Church
16th century - Reformation
18th century - The GreatAwakening
19th century - The Old School-New School Controversy
               Southern Church Splits off
20th century -  Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy
                Women gain full rights
21st Century - Decline 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) PCUSA has been experiencing discontent between conservative/evangelical churches and the more liberal national organization for some time now.
See Social Issues on the Presbyterian History page

The early part of the 20th century saw growth in both camps:
- Fundamentalist Christians (a movement of those who believed in the literal interpretation of the Bible as the fundamental source of the religion).
- Modernist Christians (a movement holding the belief that Christianity needed to be re-interpreted in light of modern scientific theories such as evolution or the rise of degraded social conditions brought on by industrialization and urbanization).
The Main Line PC (USA) started to decline along with other Main Line denominations in the later part of the 20th century.

A brief history:

  • 55 AD:
    Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth,
    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

    Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
    1corinthians 1:10-13

  • 60 AD:
    Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
    Eph 4:1-6

  • 1500s - The reformation,
    Martin Luther creates the protestant religious movement which breaks away from the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Reformed Theology and the Presbyterian form of government are rooted in the theology and polity (or church government) of John Calvin, the great reformer in France and Switzerland, in the 1500s, along with his disciple John Knox of Scotland.

  • 1730s-1740's - The First Great Awakening saw a controversy between the traditionalists ( Protestants who insisted on the continuing importance of ritual and doctrine) and the revivalists (who added emphases on "outpourings of the Holy Spirit"). Revivalist evangelicalism "sought to include every person in conversion, regardless of gender, race, and status."
    Jonathan Edwards, who came from Puritan, Calvinist roots, taught a general distrust of religious leadership and any knowledge from afar.

    Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian minister who would later become the fourth president of Princeton University, was noted for converting African slaves to Christianity in unusually large numbers.

  • 1800 - Second Great Awakening:
    The Second Great Awakening that began about 1800. It reached out to the unchurched, in contrast the First Great Awakening that focused on people who were already church members. It changed their rituals, their piety, and their self-awareness.
    Charles Finney was considered the leader. See ReformProject - Second-Great-Awakening.
    Google Second Great Awakening

  • 1837 - The Old School-New School Controversy
    In response to the Second Great Awakening, Presbyterians split once again over revivals1 and the Primacy of the Westminster Standards. At the General Assembly of 1837 in Philadelphia, representatives of the Synods of Western Reserve, Utica, Geneva and Genese were refused entry. They left to hold a separate assembly nearby, constituting the New School.

    Believing slavery to be divinely-ordained, ministers separated from both New School and Old School to form the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America in 1861.

    In . 1840, the Morristown Presbyterian Church divided and some members established the South Street Presbyterian Church.
    Albert Barnes, the the pastor of Morristown Presbyterian Church (1825-1830), served as moderator of the General Assembly to the New School branch in 1851.
    He is quoted as saying: "There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it."

    Believing slavery to be divinely-ordained, ministers separated from both New School and Old School to form the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America in 1861.

    With the southern churches gone, ecclesiastical and theological differences were ultimately trumped by the national division over slavery The the New and Old schools reunited in 1869.

    The Old School, led by Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, was much more conservative theologically and was not supportive of revivals. It called for traditional Calvinist orthodoxy as outlined in the Westminster standards. The New School derived from the reconstructions of Calvinism by New England. Called the Edwardsian Calvinists after Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards,they wholly embraced revivalism.
    The revivalism is an extension of the Great Awakening (see above).

    In "The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience (1970)", George Marsden identified three New School themes rejected by the Old School.

    • A nationalistic outlook that blended a concern for society with the promotion of revivals. New School Presbyterians, as part of the New England Puritan tradition, believed that the health of America depended upon its spiritual well-being.
    • The use of voluntary associations--tract and Bible societies, nondenominational missions agencies, organizations to promote moral reforms such as temperance and the abolition of slavery--to spread the benefits of Christian civilization.
    • The New School modified Calvinist theology by developing doctrines that would support both revivals and moral reform.
    The old School expelled from the church 4 synods (all in Ohio and Western New York, that had all been formed under the Plan of Union and were hybrid Presbyterian-Congregational churches), 28 presbyteries, 509 ministers, and about 60,000 communicants.

    In . 1840, the Morristown Presbyterian Church divided and some members established the South Street Presbyterian Church.
    Albert Barnes, the pastor of Morristown Presbyterian Church (1825-1830), served as moderator of the General Assembly to the New School branch in 1851.
    He is quoted as saying: "There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it."

    They merged back together in 1869
    See The Schism of 1837 - American Presbyterian Church
    1. Revival in this case mean restoration of the church itself not an evangelistic meeting or series of meetings.

  • 1861 - Southern States split from the Presbyterian Church in the US.
    The immediate cause was passage of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions by the General Assembly in May 1861. These declared loyalty to the United States to be a religious duty.
    They reunited in 1983 to create the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
    See The Presbyterian Family Connections (break-ups and mergers 1706-1983)
  • 1922 - Harry Emerson Fosdick, a modernist pastoring a PCUSA congregation in New York City, preached a sermon entitled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" The crisis reached a head the following year when, in response to the New York Presbytery's1 decision ordain a couple of men who could not affirm the virgin birth, the PCUSA's General Assembly reaffirmed the "five fundamentals": the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the vicarious atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture and Christ's miracles and resurrection.
  • 1923 - The General Assembly of 1923 was particularly contentious.
    In response to the New York Presbytery's decision ordain a couple of men who could not affirm the virgin birth, the PCUSA's General Assembly reaffirmed the "five fundamentals": the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the vicarious atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture and Christ's miracles and resurrection.

    William Jennings Bryan launched critical debates to:
    1. Prosecute Fosdick and his sermon (above).
    2. Oppose Darwinism which had been reconciled with theistic evolution by most in the Church.

  • 1923 - 29 See The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy - A religious controversy in the 1920s and '30s within the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America that later created divisions in most Christian denominations as well.
  • 1956 - Women gained full clergy rights.
  • 1960's - Disputes erupted over the extent of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the issue of ordination of women.
  • 1973 - A conservative group broke away from the Presbyterian Church in the United States, mainly over the issues of women's ordination and a perceived drift toward theological liberalism. This group formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), now the 2nd largest Presbyterian denomination.
  • 1981 - The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) was formed.
  • 1990's - Disputes over the ordination of gays.
  • 1991 - The Special Committee to Study Human Sexuality published a 200-page report "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice".
    The study, which was initiated in 1987 to bridge political divisions and to bring in members outside traditional nuclear families, seems to have best succeeded at offending almost everyone.

    This report which proposed relaxed views of pre-marital sex, homosexuality and other contentious issues created a lot of controversy within the church and got national media attention.

    The report calls for a new standard of "justice-love," -- the right-relatedness with self and others, which condones things like premarital sex.

    It was voted down 534 to 31.
    The delegates voted to continue to abide by church positions on homosexuality, adopted in 1978 and 1979. While saying that gays and lesbians are "fully welcome" as members, they prohibit practicing homosexuals from being ordained as ministers or elders.
    Search for articles on it.

  • 2001 - Confessing Movement
    70 churches in 24 states have passed resolutions in support of the Confessing Movement which opposed the liberal drift on human sexuality and biblical authority.
  • 2002 -
    General Assembly reaffirms the former PCUS 1969 statement, "There is no necessary contradiction between Christian faith as expressed in our church's confessions and an affirmation of evolution as the means of creation.
  • At the 2012 General Assembly meeting social issues were discussed again.
    • A motion to change the definition of marriage as between "two people" was NOT approved by a vote of 308-338-2.
    • Just access to female reproductive health care (including abortions).
    • An overture aligning the PC(USA) with the occupy movement (although the specific reference to occupy was removed).
    • An overture advocating the use of sustainable farming practices, claiming that "protection of the environment is an essential part of the Christian Faith"
    • A resolution encouraging participation in the Words Matter Project (attempt to remove sexist language).
  • 2011 - General Assembly passed amendment 10-A permitting the ordination (elders and deacons) of non-celibate homosexuals, and to explicitly remove the standards of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness as requirements for ordination.

    In addition the Book of Order, consisting of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, Form of Government, Directory for Worship, and Rules of Discipline, was completely revised.

  • 2011 - Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) formed.
  • 2012 ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a new denomination separate from PC (USA) was formed out of the FOP, but FOP remained committed to stay in PC (USA)
  • At the 2014 General Assembly same sex marriage was approved.
    They also voted to divest themselves from stock in three multinational corporations that allegedly sell products to Israel to help promote violence in Palestinian territories.
    See General Assembly: M & M by Cheryl Galan - Elizabeth Presbytery
      "They're calling it the M & M Assembly: Marriage and Middle East."
      She has a brief discussion of some of the arguments for and against same sex marriages before the vote.

The PC(USA) ( Who's joining the exodus? | reports 1.85 million members in 2012, less than half of its peak membership of 4.25 million members in 1965 (decline of 1.8%/year) and down 5% from 2011.

PCUSA 2015 Membership Loss: 2015 - The Layman
Membership, 2001 to 2012 |
Half the Churches have less than 100 members, most with no full time pastor.

Other Presbyterian denominations June 2016
Demonation  Churches (Congregations)
PC (USA)      10,462
PC in America  1,534
EPC              587
ECO              297
Source: Three Presbyterian denominations continue to grow - The Layman

The decline is a trend in mainline churches over the last several decades. The National Council of Churches 2012 yearbook reported declines from 2011 of: 0.15% (Southern Baptist Convention), 0.4% (Catholic), 1.2% (United Methodist), 2.7% (Episcopal), 3.45% (Presbyterian USA), 3.95% (National Baptist Convention), 5.9% (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
In 1970 the mainline churches claimed more than 30 percent of American adults, today they are claiming approximately 15 percent. Source Wikipedia.
Increases were posted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Dismissal from PCUSA and Property Issues:
Most churches were built with funds raised by the local congregation and is owned by them for legal purposes.
However, under the PC(USA) constitution, all property held by or for a congregation is "held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit" of the denomination.
The primary purpose of this clause is to prevent churches which have closed down due to lack of membership from being sold by the remaining members for their benefit.
This clause is now used to discourage churches from leaving PC (USA).

In 2014, John Ortberg's Megachurch in Menlo Park Calif. with assets of $17 Million reportedly had to pay the San Francisco Presbytery over $8 Million for clear title.
See Religion News Service

Gracious Dismissal Policies
Most presbyteries have established Gracious Dismissal Policies for a churche's disaffiliation with PC(USA).

The Presbytery of Elizabeth Process
A story of genuinely gracious dismissal by Jeff Wildrick, pastor of Dunellen PC - The Layman

Conservative Groups within PC(USA)

Some conservative-minded groups in the PC(USA), such as the Confessing church movement and the Presbyterian Lay Committee (formed in the mid-1960s) have remained in the main body, rather than leaving to form new, break-away groups.

Fellowship Community:
The Fellowship of Presbyterians was started to support churches concerned about the health of the PC(USA) as a denomination.

In 2012 they launched the new Reformed body, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.. This provides another "Reformed Body". According to the Gracious Dismissal policy of PCUSA churches must join another "Reformed Body" e.g. (Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), ...).
In 2014, The Fellowship of Presbyterians and Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR) agreed to merge into one organization the Fellowship Community.
Fellowship Community is an "umbrella organization" that includes members of the PC(USA), members of ECO, and brothers and sisters in Christ beyond these two denominations.

The Fellowship Community support evangelical, gospel-centered congregations remaining in the PC(USA). Many congregations have discerned God's call to leave the PC(USA). However, there are many congregations who have discerned the voice of the same Holy Spirit to remain, and others for whom changing denominational identity is simply not an option. It is these congregations that form the first part of the Fellowship Community--the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart , 2013 Christena Cleveland

A Family Tree of Presbyterian Denomination - (timeline os splits and mergers) Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy - Wikipedia lists controversies between the Old-side/School and New-side/School
PC(USA) Who we Are

eComparison of Basic Beliefs and Viewpoints of Three Presbyterian Denominations: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA), Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), and Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) Files/FAQs.pdf
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - News & Announcements - Who's joining the exodus?
Churches discerning their denominational affiliation - list of churches leaving |
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - Wikipedia
History of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and conflicts over homosexuality |
See PCUSA Decline in Churches, Members Continued in 2013 |
Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church Issues
Presbyterian 101 -- Mission and Ministry -- General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC)
Presbyterian History

Social Issues on the Presbyterian History page
The Presbyterian Family Connections (break-ups and mergers 1706-1983)
The Future of Jewish Denominations - YouTube

last updated 2 Jan 2017