UPCUSA Confession of 1967
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Time Period
1967
Description
After the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (UPCUSA) formed in 1958, the united leadership commissioned a committee to craft a new confession of faith. The denomination adopted the creed into its Book of Confessions in 1967 where it joined the historic creeds of the Christian faith like the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Confession of 1967 addressed many of the pressing social issues of the time. It encouraged racial reconciliation, condemned nuclear weapons, issued a call to fight poverty, and denounced sectarian divisions.

Conservative Presbyterians protested the new confession. Some were troubled by the confession’s social issues, feeling like it subtly supported forced desegregation, while others felt uneasy with the absence of traditional doctrines, like biblical inerrancy. Despite these protests, the presbyteries approved the confession by wide margins.

Controversy over the denomination’s liberal tendencies continued into the 1970s and 1980s, leading to schisms and new Presbyterian denominations.
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Narrative
After the merger between the more-conservative United Presbyterian Church of North America and the more-liberal Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) in 1958, the united leadership commissioned a committee to craft a new confession of faith. The denomination adopted the creed into its Book of Confessions in 1967 where it joined the historic creeds of the Christian faith like the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith. A revised version with more inclusive language replaced it in 2002.

The Confession of 1967 addressed many of the pressing social issues of the time. It encouraged racial reconciliation, condemned nuclear weapons, and issued a call to fight poverty. In keeping with the PCUSA's desire to promote ecumenism among the mainline denominations, the confession also repudiated "sectarian divisions, exclusive denominations, and rival factions."

It did not take long for conservative Presbyterians both within and outside the denomination to protest the new confession. While some were worried about the church taking positions on social issues, especially the tacit support for forced desegregation, many were concerned about the underlying theology of the confession. For example, doctrines that hinged on supernatural events like the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ were conspicuous by their absence. Furthermore, the new statement on the infallibility of the Bible did not mention the concept of scriptural inerrancy, long a conservative litmus test.

Despite these protests, the presbyteries approved the confession by wide margins. Yet, consensus was short lived. During the 1970s and early 1980s, a series of three splits occurred relating to the controversy over the confession of 1967.

In 1973, more than 40,000 members left the PCUSA in reaction to the denomination's liberal stances on theology and social issues. They joined the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), currently the second largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States with close to 360,000 members. In 1979, the Reformed Presbyterian Evangelical Synod (which merged with the PCA in 1982) left when the denominational leadership mandated that all presbyteries allow the ordination of female ministers. Finally, in 1981 the Evangelical Presbyterian Church was created in reaction to the ordination of a minister who refused to affirm the deity of Christ.

As damaging as these secessions were for the PCUSA, worse still was the median aging of its adherents and the steady drifting away of its younger members to non-denominational megachurches. It was not a problem unique to the PCUSA, but that was cold comfort given that total membership decline by nearly half from a peak of roughly 3.3 million in 1965 to less than 1.7 million in 2014. It remains the largest Presbyterian denomination in America, but unless it reverses its current rate of decline, it will dwindle to insignificance in the next two decades.
Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Confession of 1967- ARDA Representation Not Original
Book/Journal Source(s)
Hart, D.G. and John R. Muether, 2007. Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism. P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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