Victory in Houston: Conclusions and Implications of the PCA’s Rejection of the Insider Movement(s)

The 2014 PCA General Assembly in Houston voted by overwhelming majority to reject the Insider Movement(s) paradigm

The PCA became the first major Western denomination to take an official stand against IM.  Rather than merely seeking vague influence by having a seat at a table somewhere we have simply stood up on our own terms and assumed a leadership role on IM.  Beyond bringing much needed clarity to our own churches and agencies, this action will effectively delegitimize IM in larger evangelical circles and will rightly put pressure on organizations that support it.

 

As most readers will have heard by now, the 2014 Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in Houston voted by overwhelming majority to reject the Insider Movement(s) paradigm.  All attempts to confuse the matter by also recommending the pro-IM Minority Report or otherwise to prevaricate were soundly rejected.  What lessons should we take from this event in the recent history of our church?  (Go here to read the Study Committee on the Insider Movements Report [SCIM].)

1. We Should Give Glory to God

We could cite any number of human factors to explain this outcome; indeed, I will go on to mention some of them below.  However, by themselves, these factors are inadequate to explain everything.  Considering the nature of the debate we have had over the last couple of years, how likely was it that the GA would not only accept the Committee Report but reject the inclusion of the re-tooled Minority Report by a 95% majority?  I know of no one—no one—who harbored such a frankly unrealistic expectation.  The fact that this happened must ultimately be seen as an answer to the prayers of many watching saints around the world, and is a new reason to glorify the Living God.

2. The Base of the PCA Remains in Good Shape

Someone has said that, when they perceive something to be a gospel issue, the base of the PCA will always line up on the right side.  In this case, it certainly looks like this observation was correct.  The crucial part was articulating how this was, in fact, a gospel issue.  Once that happened, however, we see that the PCA manifestly lined up on the right side.  So, although there are certainly problems in our denomination, we should be very encouraged by the basic faithfulness of the men who make up the rank and file.

3. Study Committees Can be Useful

Not every problem can or should be dealt with by the formation of an ad interim study committee.  Some issues are already well known to us and we have already settled our opinions regarding them, so a study committee would serve no useful purpose.  The Insider Movement(s), however, is a good example of an issue that needed a study committee.  With some few individual exceptions, the PCA simply did not know much about the issue and had not yet located it relative to our Standards.  We needed faithful and qualified men to investigate the issue and convey their findings to the rest of us.  This Dr Garner and his colleagues did, and the result was an excellent example of why we have this tool.

4. Informed yet Impassioned Debate is Important

Some people tend to think that all that matters is that we convey information accurately.  Communicating as an impassioned prophet would be nice, but it is hardly essential.  Well, I suppose light without heat is better than heat without light, but to discuss a paradigm that strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith at multiple points without any raised affections whatsoever  would be to communicate unfaithfully.  The IM issue matters, and it was absolutely essential that men communicated as if they believed this was really true.

5.  The Tide Has Turned

As I understand it, the PCA became the first major Western denomination to take an official stand against IM.  Rather than merely seeking vague influence by having a seat at a table somewhere we have simply stood up on our own terms and assumed a leadership role on IM.  Beyond bringing much needed clarity to our own churches and agencies, this action will effectively delegitimize IM in larger evangelical circles and will rightly put pressure on organizations that support it.  Of course, the fight is not over.  As with the Federal Vision, there will now be a prolonged clean-up operation.  Church and presbytery missions committees will need to ask questions to ensure that they are not unwittingly supporting this false paradigm.  Additionally, there is the larger theology of message contextualization—the horse IM rode in on—that will need to come in for scrutiny as well.  However, the crucial thing was that we spoke with clarity on the issue before us, and, with God’s help, the rest will come in time.

Conclusion

As a close this brief article, I would like to express my thanks to God for the men who took a principled, compassionate yet impassioned stand on this crucial issue.  May your tribe increase, and may the Lord continue to uphold and bless our denomination.

William M. Schweitzer (PhD, Edinburgh) is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and serves as a church planter in Gateshead, England.