2016-06-30
DALLAS, March 6 (RNS) -- The National Association of Evangelicals has decided to reconsider its recent membership rule permitting church bodies of the more theologically liberal National Council of Churches to hold dual membership with the evangelical organization.

Bishop Kevin Mannoia, NAE president, said the board of the organization Monday asked its bylaws committee to restudy the issue after a representative of the Presbyterian Church in America made a motion that the new rule be rescinded.

"The position of the NAE remains unchanged as it relates to membership," Mannoia told reporters at a news conference after the closed board meeting. "But we will probably be going back and making sure that that's the position that we mean to take."

The Rev. Roy Taylor, clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, told Religion News Service his denomination views the NAE's move as "inconsistent with the unique nature" of the evangelical organization.

"The uniqueness of the NAE in its founding was to be an evangelical association in contrast to the more theologically diverse and pluralistic NCC mainline denominations," he said.

Taylor said the PCA assembly, held last June, directed its interchurch relations committee to request that NAE reverse its action.

He said other reasons for the request included concerns about "doctrinal integrity" and the possible departure of some denominational members of NAE if member denominations of the NCC join the evangelical umbrella organization.

"This does not seem to us to be a clear witness in our post-modern culture where the emphasis is on relativism rather than our standing very clearly for the uniqueness of the Christian faith," Taylor said.

The Presbyterian Church in America began in 1973, splitting over theological differences from one of the precursor denominations that make up the current, more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA), which is an NCC member.

"For us to go back into a situation where we would be related again to the National Council of Churches is disconcerting," Taylor said.

The bylaws change, approved at the 2000 meeting of the evangelical organization, allows for denominations that are members of other ecclesiastical bodies, including the NCC, to be able to hold membership with the NAE. Any denomination that joins would have to adhere to the NAE's statement of faith.

"Evangelicals know who they are," Mannoia said, defending the change in the bylaws. "We don't have to define ourselves based on who we're not. ... We are committed to the statement of faith that has been forged over 60 years. We are committed to the identity of the evangelical witness."

Mannoia said the restudy will occur to "honor one of our own," but he does not expect it will result in the deletion of the bylaws from the NAE's books.

"The chances are not great that it would be altered," he said, noting the process to change the bylaws began over two years ago and involved discussion by NAE committees and its board before more than a 2/3 majority of the board approved the move.

The bylaws committee is expected to report on its study of the matter at next year's meeting of the association, which currently has 51 member denominations. This year's meeting concludes on Wednesday.

Asked if the PCA might leave the NAE if the bylaws remain unchanged, Taylor said: "It's a possibility -- certainly not a threat -- but we would make the decision based on whatever changes are made or not made."

In response to questions raised by some of its members, the NAE board passed a resolution Monday clarifying its views on ecumenism.

"We shall not seek out or respond to any overture of any body that would seek to subsume the NAE into the contemporary ecumenical movement, while continuing to partner with groups as appropriate to advance singular social issues," reads the resolution, described as a "sense of the association."

The board of the evangelical National Religious Broadcasters recently voted to drop its long-term affiliation with NAE. Mannoia said one of the reasons cited for that decision was a concern on the part of the broadcasters that the NAE was "merging with the NCC," which he said is not the case.

"The NAE as a whole, and I as its president am not in any way interested in compromising our statement of faith or our identity," said Mannoia, bishop emeritus of the Free Methodist Church of North America. He said the NRB also disputed other bylaws changes, including one regarding NAE's theological oversight of its affiliates.

The NRB said in a statement that the two organizations "have grown apart" and "have differing purposes in our work." The "sense of the association" resolution adopted by the NAE board also addressed the NRB's departure: "We regret the action of the NRB to sever its ties with the NAE and hope that they might reconsider this action in the future."

Mannoia said he intends to write to NRB board members about their concerns and hopes the two organizations can find ways to continue to have "a good working relationship."

There was no immediate response from the NCC.


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