PCA General Assembly Report 2015

May God keep the PCA true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

As was true of the 42nd General Assembly, so is true of the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, this Assembly won’t create headlines around the world or be noted in histories of the Presbyterian Church. In many ways, I am thankful for that. It was a good Assembly as the church conducted its very routine and ordinary business. We made theological pronouncements, exercised pastoral concern, worshipped, fellowshipped, and encouraged the mission of the Church.

 

Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Moderator: The PCA elected Mr. Jim Wert as Moderator of the 43rd  General Assembly. Mr. Wert serves as a ruling elder at Intown Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been actively involved in all levels of the church’s courts.

2014 Numbers*:

Churches & Missions:         1,831      (increase of 23 from 2013)

Professions of Faith:           9,425     (increase of 299 from 2013)

Membership:                        358,516                 (decrease of 1,318 from 2013)

Total Family Units:             136,849 (decrease of 477 from 2013)

Long Term Missionaries:   596         (decrease of 24 from 2013)

Two Year Missionaries:      115         (decrease of 3 from 2013)

Missionary Interns              230         (decrease of 46 from 2013)

Two Week Missionaries:    4,599      (decrease of 211 from 2012)

RUF:                                      125 campuses in 42 states and in 60 Presbyteries

*The Stated Clerk noted that less than half of PCA churches report their statistics. He believes the PCA actually would have shown modest growth in 2015 if all churches did report their statistics

Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly

  1. Civil Rights: Ligon Duncan, the Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, and Sean Lucas, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, brought a personal resolution to the General Assembly floor seeking to acknowledge and confess the PCA’s sins and failures during the Civil Rights era. This personal resolution came to the floor with an unanimous recommendation from the Overtures’ Committee that it be referred to next year’s Assembly.
  2. Sabbath: North Texas Presbytery sent an overture to the Assembly seeking to establish a study committee to consider revisions to Westminster Confession of Faith 21-8, Westminster Larger Catechism 117 and 119, and Westminster Shorter Catechism 60 and 61. The main concern expressed was the “recreation clause,” which prohibits recreation on the Sabbath day. As noted in the overture, many ordinands take an exception to the Standards on this point. The study committee was soundly defeated on the floor by a vote of 662-248-9.
  3. Paedocommunion: Paedocommunioin continues to be a “hot topic” in the PCA. The Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) cited two different presbyteries for actions related to pastors being ordained or transferring into their bounds, who took exceptions to Westminster Larger Catechism 177. WLC 177 states that the Lord’s Supper should only be administered “to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.” Minority reports were filed regarding both of these cases and the Assembly adopted both minority reports on votes of 535-245-37 and 438-315-35.
  4. Officer Trials: An overture came to the Assembly seeking to change the Book of Church Order. This change would have required officers to testify in cases involving doctrinal issues. This suggested change generated more debate than one would expect. Concerns were expressed about “witch hunts” and the fear of being required to take “the stand.” This was the closest vote at the Assembly. A substitute motion to answer the overture in the negative was adopted by a vote of 477-455-15.
  5. Complementarianism: The PCA continues to be a solidly complementarian denomination. The Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) cited the Philadelphia Presbytery for sustaining the ordination exams of a candidate who was not “100% sure the New Testament itself teaches a universal prohibition on women eldership” (This pastor is now moving to the RCA). A minority report emerged from RPR recommending that the Assembly not cite Philadelphia with an exception of substance on this matter. The Assembly was overwhelming in its vote on this issue, rejecting the minority report by a vote of 258 in favor and 554 against.

Issues to Watch

  1. Connectional Nature: The PCA is a connectional church. However, less than half of its churches report statistics, only 1,320 commissioners attended the Assembly, and most churches do not support the agencies and committees of the denomination. Our ministry and witness would be much stronger if more churches were willing to engage in the courts of the church, support the work of the denomination, or at least report their statistics.
  2. Paedocommunion: I am concerned that a view and practice which was foreign and marginal in the PCA a decade ago has become part of the fabric of the denomination. In no way do I believe this is a majority or even a significant minority view in the PCA, however, its seeming acceptance as an allowable doctrine in the PCA is worrying. This doctrine is too important to come through the backdoor. If the PCA is going to entertain paedocommunion than a change like this necessitates much thought, study, debate, and discussion. The Apostle Paul made it clear that one must “discern the body” or they eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11). We dare not wander into the acceptance of this doctrine or its practice unless we truly believe this is what the Scriptures teach. Souls lay in the balance.
  3. Debate Regarding Officer Trials: The debate regarding officers being required to testify at doctrinal trials was disappointing. Warnings about “witch hunts,” fear of repercussions in civil court, and concern about being able to adequately articulate a personal defense were the most voiced concerns. These are fine concerns to express, but not to rule the day. I fear that we live in a day and age where honesty and forthrightness are little valued. At least in the courts of the church, they must be valued and I would hope and expect that men would be more than willing to honestly and forthrightly express their views on doctrine having been ordained to an office which requires doctrinal fidelity.

Personal Encouragements

  1. Courage: Duncan and Lucas’ courageous personal resolution stirred a necessary and needed discussion in the PCA. As most southern denominations, the PCA and its churches failed and sinned in numerous ways during the Civil Rights Era. It is an issue that demands attention. Conversation throughout the week of General Assembly centered upon this resolution. Even more importantly, the debate on the floor was helpful, challenging, and encouraging. I have great hope that next year’s Assembly will seek to address our sins and failures as a denomination and begin the long process of healing and reconciliation on this front. The most important moment of the Assembly was the courageous speech made by Rev. Jim Baird, former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi and founding father of the PCA. Rev. Baird acknowledged his own personal failings and sins during this era and asked for forgiveness. His example set the stage for an extended time of confession and prayer on the final night of the Assembly.
  2. Faithfulness: The Assembly was firm in its vote citing the Philadelphia Presbytery and their ordination of a man who was not “100% convinced” the New Testament taught a universal prohibition of women eldership. I am not aware of anyone in the PCA advocating for women pastors or elders, but this ordination was a wrong step in a direction we cannot afford to head. Once again, the PCA has stood firm on a doctrine and practice that is often maligned in our current cultural context. This speaks well of its resolve, faithfulness, and submission to the authority of Scripture.
  3. Prayer: I was thankful to be a part of an Assembly that spent extended time in prayer. Personally, I have attended twelve General Assemblies, and I can’t remember an Assembly in which we spent as much time in corporate prayer. What an encouragement to the soul and how good it is to practice what we confess and teach. The PCA is a church dependent upon the Lord, confesses such in its theology, and demonstrated such at this Assembly.
  4. New Leadership: The PCA is experiencing a transition in generations. The founding fathers are few and far between at the Assembly. The second generation of leaders is moving into the role of seasoned sages. What was increasingly observable at this year and last year’s Assembly is a coalescing strong leadership in the thirty and forty something age groups. These men are serious about the gospel, reaching the lost, and faithfulness in the courts of the church. The future of the PCA appears to be in good hands.
  5. Unity: Insiders in the PCA perennially try to label different “camps” within the PCA. No doubt, there are differences in emphasis, trajectory, and commitment among brothers in the denomination. Yet, I was encouraged to witness another year of palpable unity. The PCA still needs to define itself on a number of issues, but in many ways I think it has settled into what it is and shall be. Men are not pushing as hard in one direction or another as they were fifteen or even ten years ago. In my humble opinion, there seems to be more a spirit of unity and harmony around the essentials.

Overall

As was true of the 42nd General Assembly, so is true of the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, this Assembly won’t create headlines around the world or be noted in histories of the Presbyterian Church. In many ways, I am thankful for that. It was a good Assembly as the church conducted its very routine and ordinary business. We made theological pronouncements, exercised pastoral concern, worshipped, fellowshipped, and encouraged the mission of the Church. May God keep the PCA true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

Jason Helopoulos is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves on the pastoral staff of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. This article is used with permission.



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