Commentary on the PCA General Assembly 2012

Floor debate over the past few years has become confusing

There were 10,067 professions of faith in this past year. The membership of the PCA increased by 4,176 individuals to 350,990. The number of family units in the PCA saw an increase of 245 to 137,508

Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Louisville, Kentucky.

Moderator: Dr. Michael Ross was elected Moderator of the PCA’s 40th General Assembly. Dr. Ross is the senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, N.C. Dr. Ligon Duncan, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS., nominated Dr. Ross and he was elected by common consent.

Numbers: The PCA increased in churches and mission churches from 1,757 in 2011 to 1,771 in 2012. There were 10,067 professions of faith in this past year. The membership of the PCA increased by 4,176 individuals to 350,990. The number of family units in the PCA saw an increase of 245 to 137,508. In 2012 the PCA will have 655 long term missionaries, 120 two year term missionaries, 380 intern missionaries, and 5,000 two week missionaries. RUF grew this past year to 140 campuses in 37 states and 58 presbyteries. There are four new RUF ministries scheduled to begin in 2012.

Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly

1.  Theistic Evolution: The General Assembly chose not to make an in thesi statement regarding theistic evolution. Both in the Overtures Committee and on the floor of the Assembly no one advocated for the theistic evolutionary view. However, there were many who argued that the Assembly needed no such statement because the Westminster Standards were sufficient in speaking to this matter.

2.  Paedocommunion: The Assembly has in consecutive years spoken pretty strongly against paedocommunion. The Assembly voted down a motion to bring the Pacific Northwest Presbytery before the Standing Judicial Commission regarding its “persisting in the error of granting an exception which is out of accord, ‘that is hostile to the system or striking at the vitals of religion.’” However, the Assembly then proceeded to say that Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s response to the General Assembly regarding its ordination of men with such an exception was its self unacceptable. It appears that the Assembly was not comfortable charging a Presbytery, but was equally uncomfortable with the Pacific Northwest Presbytery ordaining men with such an exception and allowing the teaching of this practice.

3.  Intinction: The closest vote of the week came during the debate regarding intinction. The Overtures Committee came forward with both a majority and minority report. The majority report proposed to answer in the negative an overture which would have forbidden intinction in the PCA. The minority report was substituted for the majority report and passed by only 14 votes (348-334). The minority report was then approved by the Assembly. It is the first step towards inserting language in our Book of Church Order which would exclude intinction in the distributing of the Lord’s Table. This must now be approved by 2/3 of the Presbyteries and next year’s Assembly.

4.  National Association of Evangelicals: An overture was sent to the Assembly requesting that the PCA leave the NAE. The Assembly decided to stay in the NAE for the time being, but asked that there be a report next year regarding the activities of the NAE. As was stated on the floor, this will be a time of “patient observation.”

5.  Insider Movement: The first half of the study committee regarding the Insider Movement was presented to the Assembly and was overwhelmingly adopted. The chairman of the committee rightly stated that Bible translation is “first and foremost a theological issue, not a contextual issue.”

Personal Encouragements

1.  I continue to be amazed by the respectful tone of debate and discussion at the PCA General Assembly.

2.  The action taken by the Assembly on the Insider Movement was expected and encouraging. This is the PCA at its best. This denomination is filled with wonderfully gifted men, who should be speaking to issues such as this for the benefit of not only the PCA, but the wider body of Christ. How good it was to hear in a discussion of this magnitude, “This is first and foremost a theological issue, not a contextual issue.” Amen and Amen.

3.  The PCA is rightly thinking through its sacramental theology. Intinction and paedocommunion are relatively new practices in Reformed circles. It is a blessing to see the PCA discussing, deliberating, and detailing what is acceptable practice in regards to the Table.

4.  Some of the NAE’s actions in the recent past have been questionable. And the PCA is patiently observing the NAE’s current practices in order to determine whether it should leave this association. This action seems wise. It is not overly reactive and yet notice has been given of our concerns and therefore will not be a surprise to the rest of the NAE if the PCA does choose to leave.

5.  Many overtures this year sought to correct a problem in how the Assembly operates. The corrections were welcomed in light of some of the problems witnessed at last year’s Assembly. Actual amendments to our constitution now require the overture to be referred to the representative Overtures Committee. This helps to provide a little more balance between the permanent committees and the Assembly itself.

Personal Concerns

1.  My greatest disappointment in this year’s meeting was the reluctance to issue a statement regarding theistic evolution. The arguments were numerous: the PCA has spoken to this in previous assemblies, our Standards already speak to the issue, an in thesi statement does very little and is non-binding, etc. I have sympathies with each of these arguments. However, I think a true opportunity was lost. The PCA had an occasion to speak to a current issue that has arisen in our own circles. Have we spoken to this before? Yes. Do our Standards speak to the issue? Yes. But could we not speak again? I believe the answer to that question, is, “yes,” as well. Making a declarative statement in the midst of a popular and growing discussion would have hurt nothing and could have actually been a loud and resounding voice in the midst of this cacophony.

2. I have now attended 8 or 9 General Assemblies running and floor debate over the past few years has become confusing. I have listened as dear brothers argue that judicial process should not have been sought against a man for his views, but rather that amendments should be made to the constitution, when amendments are offered to the constitution arguments are voiced we should have erected a study committee to examine the issue, when a study committee is erected it is argued that the proper way would be to charge a brother or amend the constitution, etc. Increasingly, it seems that whatever route is chosen is the wrong route.

3.  The PCA continues to grow and yet attendance at the Assembly is poor. There were only 1,075 delegates to this year’s GA.. Presbyterianism only works as we participate in its courts.

4.  Only 278 Ruling Elders attended this year’s Assembly. That always makes me nervous. Presbyterians have tended to wander theologically by the driving force of liberal pastors. Ruling Elder involvement is essential to the safeguarding of our denomination, its theology, and its practice.

Overall

It was a very good General Assembly. The PCA continues to be committed to the Scriptures and the Great Commission as evidenced by its Insider Movement report. It continues to be committed to the Reformed faith as demonstrated in its discussions regarding paedocommunion and intinction. Regardless of where one stands on these issues, the fact that a Reformed denomination values this means of grace enough to enter these discussions is encouraging. I continue to pray for my beloved denomination that we would persevere in truth, unity, love, and faithfulness—all to the glory of God.

 

Jason Helopoulos is a Teaching Elder in the PCA who recently moved to an ‘out-of-bounds’ position on Kevin DeYoung’s staff at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI.  Jason was a ‘guest blogger’ in Kevin’s blog at The Gospel Coalition and is used with permission.