A Report on PCA General Assembly 2017

Any gathering of sinners like me will at times be discouraging. But by the end of the week I was, for the most part, encouraged.

 I understand that some brothers, believing the PCA has drifted too far left, are seeking a way to lead their churches to a more confessional Presbyterian denomination. I am certainly sympathetic to their perspective. However, I believe it is far too early to abandon the PCA. This is not 1936. We are not the PC(USA). Not even close. Has there been a troubling trend in recent years? I believe there has been. Do we have brothers who desire to significantly broaden the PCA to something less than robustly committed to the Westminster Standards and the BCO? It certainly seems that way. But I am convinced that the clear majority of the elders and laity of the PCA are not similarly committed to that project of reinvention.

 

During the week of June 12, 2017 the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual General Assembly in Greensboro, NC. The following is my attempt to summarize my thoughts from the week.

1. I continue to be grateful to the Lord for the PCA. I am grateful that the founders of our denomination had the courage and conviction to break fellowship with those who no longer held to the Scriptures and orthodox confessional standards. For one raised in broad evangelicalism, being part of a denomination which holds to the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order is a great blessing. The PCA still holds to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. The Mainline denominations are dying precisely because they abandoned the Scriptures. And while modest, the PCA continues to grow.

2. As always I greatly enjoyed my time with brothers. The Lord has given the PCA many faithful pastors. I was encouraged, as I always am, by my time with these men.

3. Every pastor and member of a PCA church ought to be thankful for Presbyterian polity. To the uninitiated, Presbyterian church government may seem rather archaic and inflexible. Indeed it is and thankfully so. This rather complex and slow-moving process helps to ensure that men do not highjack the church. It helps protect the church from unruly pastors and sessions. It helps protect pastors from unruly congregations. Presbyterianism is not perfect. But it works remarkably well when actually practiced.

4. The moderator for GA has a tough job. It requires a complex of particular skills and knowledge that few possess. It is important that each year the Assembly elect as moderator a man who has those particular skills. I was impressed that this year’s moderator handed over the gavel to a more experienced man to lead the Assembly through a particularly complex debate.

5. The Overtures

This year the Assembly considered 25 overtures. I won’t go through the entire list. There were however several overtures that I considered to be of particular significance.

a) Overture #2
This overture would have granted Book of Church Order (BCO) chapter 59 constitutional authority. Chapter 59 of the BCO deals with the solemnization of marriage and makes clear that marriage is exclusively to be between a man and a woman. So far so good. The problem is that chapter 59 belongs to that portion of the BCO which does not have constitutional authority. That is, it is part of the BCO which churches are not required to practice. Overture 59 seeks to give constitutional authority to chapter 59 thus giving it binding authority. You may be wondering how that could be controversial. Unfortunately, it was.

It was clear from the start that Overture 2 faced strong opposition. It made it through the Overtures Committee by a very narrow margin. From the assembly floor it was recommitted for consideration next year. I understand that there were some conservatives who, though agreeing with the spirit of Overture 2, nevertheless believed that the wording needed perfecting. Others were opposed to Overture 2 for reasons of which I can only speculate.

The new sexual revolution is yielding a terrible harvest in the land. Many churches and denominations have wandered from the truth and embraced all manner of sexual immorality. It is important in times such as these that the church give public witness to the truth. Overture 2 is an opportunity to do that. It is also a means by which we remind the laity in PCA churches that we must not capitulate to the spirit of the age. Also, by adopting Overture 2 we will provide further legal protection for PCA pastors and chaplains who will be increasingly pressured to perform same-sex weddings. By making BCO 59 constitutional we can do these things.

I am mystified by any principled opposition to Overture 2. Perfect the wording? Fine. But oppose the Overture outright? For what purpose? Are we embarrassed by our position on homosexuality and marriage? Are we afraid to confront the civil authorities when they bless what God calls an abomination? Will such a move make us less winsome? If the only sins we are willing to condemn are the same ones condemned by popular culture then what has happened to us?

Pray that Overture 2 will be approved next year.

b) Overture #7
“Remove Long Range Planning from CMC by deleting RAO 7-3 c”

As amended, Overture 7 changes Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) 7-3 so that long-range planning for the PCA come to the Assembly through overtures from the lower courts not the Cooperative Ministries Committee.

The passage of Overture 7 was a very good thing for our denomination. The PCA was designed to be a grassroots denomination. That is, it is not supposed to be ruled by committees but through the lower courts – sessions and presbyteries. Committees, therefore, exist to execute policy not to propose policy. This helps to protect the denomination from special concerns who may “fill” committees with “our people.”

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