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Upon entering the sanctuary of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in St. Marys, parishioners and visitors will not notice a physical difference. The church has not changed, but has rather realigned itself with a more conservative reformed denomination of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
"2012 is literally a new beginning for Shiloh. God has wonderful and marvelous things in store for us all," said the Rev. Scott Wiest Sr., church pastor. "There are many things that have drawn Shiloh to the EPC. When we began looking for another Presbyterian Church we researched their beliefs and scriptures. The EPC is serious about the Bible and is determined to keep Christ at the center of all its teaching. What we found was nothing more than a blessing. The EPC believes exactly what we've always believed. It was clear what we needed to go to the EPC."
As Shiloh's pastor for the past three years, Wiest said the EPC has put safeguards in place that protect churches from straying away from Scripture.
"In short, it is committed to following Scripture and not culture. That is what we like most about the denomination," he stated.
Since its founding in 1867, Shiloh has been associated with the Presbyterian Church-USA (PCUSA) until over a year ago, when members of Shiloh's Session Board, or Ruling Elders, began collecting research and investigating the EPC.
"Every session member has had a key role in bringing about this change," Wiest said. "We, together, and all of us as a church, believe that we have clearly heard God on this matter and believe that we have been faithful in preserving and standing for us all."
The session board consists of Glenn Challingsworth, Peg Hayes, Marty Keebler, Dave Catalano, J.M. Hamlin 'Ham' Johnson, Sally Azzato, Doug Schlabach, Dick Jones, Anne Meyer, Lara Reynolds and Teri Schlabach.
According to Wiest, Shiloh left the PCUSA over the Supremacy of Scripture.
"Shiloh has always believed that the word of God is true and should be followed. The PCUSA just continually challenged things that are clearly taught in the Bible, and in some cases just ignored. There are well-organized groups within the larger church that want to change what God's word says," he said. "The denomination that I so love and that Shiloh has belonged to has become too liberal. Every year in our larger gathering with the national and local bodies, we find ourselves discussing things that God has already settled. It has become a huge distraction and has affected the mission that God has called us to."
Wiest explained Shiloh's dissatisfaction with the PCUSA began in 1993, when the national church supported the Re-Imagining, a Christian feminist conference held in Minneapolis which was attended by 2,000 people, mostly women, and one-third of them pastors from 49 states and 27 countries. He said many believe this choice was a church catastrophe, as the larger church viewed the attendees' chants to Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, and their statements questioning the atonement of Christ as heresy.
"Since then, the PCUSA has become more and more open to re-imagining God and scripture. The results have become a more liberal church," Wiest said.
The Presbyterian Church, with its reformed theology, came to this country in 1706. It has its roots in John Calvin, a theologian pastor. Since then, more than 25 separations have occurred, brining about various Presbyterian denominations. Disagreement over theology, confessions and political and social issues have been the primary factor.
The PCUSA is by far the largest of the denominations consisting of over 10,000 churches, but it is also the most diverse, according to Wiest. Every two years, their General Assembly meets to discuss the beliefs and missions of the church and at that time new and old controversies arise.
Among the specific controversies Shiloh was in deep disagreement with the PCUSA over was Shiloh's strong anti-abortion stance and opposition to gay marriage.
"We don't believe in abortion. The EPC is clearly pro-life as is Scripture, but the PCUSA is paying for abortions for their employees and pastors through their mandatory benefits plan," Wiest said. "When asked to remove their coverage for abortion, they consistently refused. People don't want their money to go and pay for things like that. This has severely wounded the consciences of many of our members.
"We don't believe in gay marriage, though we love and respect all people. Scripture clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. The question we face is will the church continue to hold to the authority of God's word or will it cave in to culture?"
Weist noted currently the PCUSA pays for benefit plans of gay couples living together.
He stated the PCUSA has decided to bypass clear teachings on holiness standards and has allowed in some cases, people who are living in a "continual state of unrepentant sin" to be ordained and/or remain in leadership position.
"It is God's word and whether we like it or not, following it and staying within its boundaries is best for us all," Wiest said. "We will no longer have to spend the endless hours fighting and debating topics that are so clearly taught in the Bible. We will now be able to get busy working together in trust and reading the same Bible and accomplishing the same goals, together, as we seek to reach all people with the love and grace of Jesus Christ."