I was recently asked to outline some of the major differences between the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) and my own denomination the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and I came up with the following 13 point list:
1) The PCA does not ordain women to either of the offices in the church (Teaching/Ruling Elder, Deacon). The PCUSA by contrast ordains women to both offices.
2) The PCA affirms that the bible is inerrant and infallible in all that it teaches. The PCUSA does not.
3) The PCA repudiates abortion and considers it a violation of the sixth commandment. The PCUSA believes, there should be no limits on access to abortions, there should be public funding of abortions, and that there should be limits placed on people who demonstrate against abortion.
4) The PCA is against homosexual behavior and same sex marriage and believes both are sins. The PCUSA does not consider homosexuality to be a sin, ordains practicing homosexuals and came within 30 votes of giving the go ahead to same sex marriage ceremonies in the church. Their next General Assemby (GA) will probably do so.
5) The PCA is against divorce except in cases of adultery or desertion. The PCUSA by contrast allows for no-fault divorce and remarriage.
6) The PCA has a constitution consisting of the Westminster Standards and Book of Church Order. All church officers must subscribe to these documents as their Confession of Faith. Teaching against the doctrines contained in these documents or violating them could result in trial and deposition from office.
By contrast, the PCUSA has a “Book of Confessions” containing all of the major Reformed Confessions, and some modern confessions of faith which change or even deny things contained in these confessions. They are viewed more as a series of general guidelines or suggestions that do not bind the conscience of officers in any way. PCUSA church officers routinely teach contrary to the doctrines contained in these documents.
7) The PCA is explicitly Reformed in its theology. Someone denying Calvinism would have an extremely hard time being ordained in the PCA. By contrast, the theology of PCUSA congregations varies widely from church to church and can cover a spectrum from defacto Unitarian Universalism to Neo-Orthodoxy to soft Arminianism. Very few PCUSA congregations are explicitly Calvinistic in their teaching and preaching.
8) The PCA is explicitly evangelistic in its belief that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” as well as its desire to see all people come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas in the PCUSA evangelism is much less popular and often either non-existent or repudiated in the manner of influential PCUSA Pastor Rev. Randall K. Bush who stated recently: “As of this point, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached to all the corners of the world, so knock it off…. Once the evangelical notion of the church can be turned down for a moment, the wisdom of other faiths can finally speak.”
9) The PCA is committed to a principle of voluntary association and all PCA congregations own their own property. Additionally all giving to the administration and permanent committees of the PCA is voluntary. By contrast the property of PCUSA congregations is “regarded as held in trust for the benefit of the PC(USA).” This makes the dissolution of the denominational bond much more difficult in the PCUSA and can sometimes mean a congregation must leave without their church building.
10) While the PCA is gradually centralizing power, the PCA was originally intended to be a “grass roots” denomination and power is still vested largely in Presbyteries in the PCA. By contrast, in the PCUSA, power is much more centralized in the administration and General Assembly.
11) While the PCA is gradually becoming tolerant towards the teaching of theistic evolution, Creationism is still the doctrine held and confessed by most PCA pastors. By contrast, in the PCUSA, evolution is widely accepted.
12) While the PCA is gradually becoming more open to being involved in national and international politics, particularly through its membership in the NAE, they generally hesitate to take stands on issues that do not clearly fall under the oversight of the church. The PCUSA, on the other hand, routinely takes stands on a host of political issues ranging from immigration to increased funding for public schools to condemning big tobacco to divestment from Israel.
13) (Addendum Regarding Worship) – There used to be significant theological differences between the PCA’s and PCUSA’s theology of worship. These difference still exist on paper even though they no longer exist in practice. The PCA confesses that all of our worship should be directed only by the bible, while the PCUSA states that worship should be an amalgam of bible, culture, feeling, and tradition.