Bad News for Denominational Schismatics

Truro Church in Northern Virginia is among the seven congregations that would have to vacate their churches if they decide not to appeal. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)

People who are honest about the conservative uprisings in various denominations will admit that many conservative congregations are staying put — at least for now — because the congregations don’t own the building in which they meet, and/or the land on which that building stands. The courts have been split on who actually owns the buildings and the land, but a conclusive ruling in the D.C. area has put conservative Episcopal parishes on notice: If they leave the denomination, they will have to vacate their buildings:

A Virginia judge has ruled against seven conservative congregations that broke away from the Episcopal Church in 2006, rejecting their argument that they should be able to keep some $40 million in church real estate that the national denomination also claims.

The case has drawn worldwide attention because it involves a cluster of large, prominent churches with well-known conservative pastors and because the issues at hand — particularly the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of same-sex relationships as equal to heterosexual ones — are roiling much of organized religion. Various Protestant congregations in particular have wound up in litigation across the country.

via Va. judge rules against conservative churches in property case – The Washington Post.

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  • Frank

    I think that portable churches and house churches have shown us that the building is irrelevant. Far better to stay true to Gods word and not compromise scriptural truth then worry about real estate or money. Let Caesar have what is Caesars..

  • The Apostle Paul quite clearly speaks against the homosexual practice, yet he equally clearly speaks against a brother taking a brother to court. These are matters for forgiveness and reconciliation and you cannot choose the legal options over and above the Biblical principles.

  • What Frank said.

    I did some “searching” about the idea of church planting over the last year. It’s intriguing, and in some ways inviting. However, too many people told me that the main goals were to have the church paying my salary and to have a building started within five years. We may need more churches, but we don’t need more buildings.

    My question about denomination is–and probably always will be–can you not coexist even in your differences?

  • Let me also add: Would it not also be a good idea for the Diocese to work out an agreement rather than take this to court? All of this reeks of sour grapes, bitterness, and an “I’m going to take my ball and go home” mentality. Don’t mean to downplay the importance of the issues that started this; but, at the end of the day, EVERYONE looks petty and small. Better to give up the land than to give off that vibe.

    • I’m not episcopalian, so I don’t know how their polity works. And I know nothing of what happened here.

      I wouldn’t assume that they didn’t talk about it before entering into the legal process. My suspicion is that there probably were talks to work out an agreement. My non-first-hand understanding of situations like this is that the governing body who owns the property is likely to offer the congregation the opportunity to buy the property at a fraction of the cost. If that is unacceptable, then I guess the last recourse would be court.

      Again, I don’t know what happened here. I’m just firing from the hip.

      Anyone out there have any actual experience with this kind of thing? Am I at least in the ballpark?

    • How is the diocese’s canon law not already that agreement?

  • Some of us denominational bureaucrats have been watching this case for some time….not because we want to hold it over the heads of our members, but just to see how it shakes out. The last thing we as denominations need is another batch of empty buildings!

    Some groups have worked out a process for their congregations to leave the fold so to speak. Often these procedures involve a number of votes by the congregation- and most often these votes need to be 100% for leaving.

    I think a congregation can leave any time it wants. The question is what to do with the building. Most denomination polity says that those who wish to remain with the denomination keep the property. Lets be honest though, in the case of Falls Church, it wasn’t just the building- it was the net assets of the congregation. A building might not make ministry happen, but unfortunately money still does!

  • Hawk

    This case is an issue of polity. Episcopalians make the argument that the diocese is the church and each congregation is a representative of the church in a particular geographic location. Functionally, a rector of a congregation is called by the congregation with the consent of the bishop and the rector’s ministry is an extension of the ministry of the diocesan bishop. Episcopal polity is one aspect of the reformation that Anglicans did not throw out with the rest of medieval catholicism. However, the Anglican church existed for over 200 years in North America before the first bishop arrived on the shores, so the Episcopal Church has a strong congregationalist undercurrent that is manifest in these northern Virginia churches. The Virginia congregations have worked hard to realign themselves with other Anglican entities because their chancellors understand Episcopal polity and have made the case the congregations haven’t left Anglicanism (only the Episcopal Church).

    I do agree that the suing and the fussing about money is unseemly, but I’m not sure that the diocesan bishop could have taken a different tact in this case without setting a precedent that would have ramifications beyond the Virginia diocese. In parts of the country where the case law had already been settled, Episcopal congregations either remain in place as part of the Episcopal diocese or vacate the buildings and begin a new alignment with a foreign judicatory in a new location. One congregation in Alabama walked away from its building and started anew down the road. Now, the Episcopal congregation has returned to its former size before the walk out, but I don’t know much about the congregation that started anew.

    My whole post probably reinforces for many why they are attracted to emerging church forms, but I do think this church fight points to the importance of thinking through your organizational polity. Whether Episcopalian or Baptist or emergent, at some point a group of people in your gathering/church/cohort are going to want you and others like you to leave and they are going to want the money in the outreach account, the couches purchased with money raised from the youth group fundraiser, and the sound system. Somehow this will have to be untangled and it will be messy.

  • Lock

    “Conservative uprising,” oh, those radical conservatives. Always protesting something and wanting to change society.

  • There is no “winner” here. We – the church as a whole – all lose in this situation.

    • Frank

      Actually that’s not true. The Episcopal church is in a crisis and the whole catholic church wins when people stand up for biblical truth and refuse to succumb to the pressures of worldly culture.

  • Regarding Church Property Law suits this current story which has gone viral involves the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination which is supposed to NOT be as hierarchical as Episcopal. The C&MA has hijacked a number of local church properties and bank accounts:

    Kindest regards in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Rock Salt Publishing

    This is my open letter to C&MA members:

    Do your members know how you really got this church property? If not, please alert your members of the following breaking news stories of the C&MA confiscation of Community Church of Paramus church property and bank account.

    WORLD NET DAILY, December 30, 2011:
    (includes interview of church hijacked by Wayne Spriggs, Eastern Pennslyvania District of the C&MA)

    WABC EYEWITNESS NEWS, December 26, 2011:

    (features Wayne Spriggs church property confiscations)

    SOUTHWEST RADIO “Watchman on the Wall” national Christian radio program will warn the church about C&MA on Jan 23, 24, 2012 shows:
    To find out the radio station(s) in your State that will break this story see:

    THE BERGEN RECORD newspaper ran five stories in December 2011 featuring similar C&MA property and bank account confiscations of firefighter and Nyack College graduate :
    First Story: “Paramus congregation locked out; scrambling for place to hold Christmas services”, December 15-16, 2011

    Second Story:
    “Judge grants stay to allow Paramus congregation to hold Christmas services” December 16, 2011, Bergen Record
    which C&MA Metro District Superintendent Bruce Terpstra and the C&MA refused to grant to Christian Firefighter and Nyack Graduate.

    Third Story:
    “Paramus church group facing new year without a place to worship” December 25, 2011

    Fourth Story:
    “‘Church hijackings’: Local flock among those losing property to parent group”
    Fifth Story:

    “Church holds final service at Paramus site” January 2, 2012

    The C&MA as well as the Assemblies of God denomination is fully submerged in Rick Warren’s philosophy and program and Warren has been a featured speaker at their national conferences. Warren’s philosophy and blueprints whom he calls “resisters”, “Fundamentalists Christians are enemies of the 21st Century”, calling Christians who resist his programs and refuse to sign his unbiblical covenants “Sanballats from Hell”, all fit perfectly with the C&MA’s hostile church takeovers. Even though Rick Warren can’t necessarily be directly connected to C&MA and AOG lawsuits to seize churches, his philosophy has become gasoline to a raging forest fire and epidemic of districts plundering the property of its own members and suing them if they resist. The C&MA also promotes Warren’s SHAPE personality temperament divination personality profiling based on the occultic teachings of Carl Jung.

    So we fervently pray that you will take heed and sound the alarm on His Holy Hill before Wayne Spriggs seizes your church property and bank account, or uses your tithes and offerings to C&MA districts to potentially sue your brothers and sisters in Christ, or possibly even use the your offerings to pay attorneys (not available to you) to sue even your church.

    Sincerely in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Rock Salt Publishing

  • Ryan

    This conflict is shameful and in direct conflict with Christian teaching. That Christians would take each other to court over church property is a disgrace for Christians everywhere. Sure, the Episcopal Church might gain a few vacant buildings or (even worse) buildings full of discontent, resentful people. Why not let them have the buildings that they’ve worshiped in for years, even generations?

    • revbev

      I agree with you. They not only have worshipped and maintained the building, they built it themselves. The generations of people who served Christ in this place were devout Christians, and they have accepted the apostolic faith once delivered to the Church. They did much good work around the world in the name of the Lord, in peace, forgiveness, and mercy. Now that the Church has been taken over, they are no longer a part of it.

    Why is church denomination cannibalizing its congregations?
    Churches belonging to an evangelical Christian denomination are being broken into, their offices ransacked, financial records taken, their utilities cut off, their doors padlocked and their property sold out from under them.

    Is it those radical Islamists persecuting Christians again? Perhaps North Korea’s secret police? Homosexual activists venting their rage against supporters of biblical marriage? Overzealous government bureaucrats taking their notion of separation of church and state too far?

    No. No. No. No.

    It’s the denomination’s own leaders!

    Now, one plundered Southern California congregation is resisting the best way it know how …

    Congregation battles officials’ attempt to shut worship center