On this, our first anniversary, many blessings have flowed from the actions of the early pioneers in our predecessor denominations, particularly the PCA. Looking back over that time, particularly in light of the six years of the Biden administration and nine years (and counting) of the Harris administration, the willingness of evangelicals to turn away from the reactionary politics of the turn of the century has proven to be perhaps the most important factor in ensuring that Christian love and compassion is witnessed to the nations.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church of the World (PCW) date from the early 2000s when one of our predecessors, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), took two steps toward maintaining the authority of Scripture while avoiding a rigid and archaic concept of inerrancy.
The first step was the report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. The committee was initiated largely by fundamentalists at the PCA’s 1998 General Assembly who believed that it would return a report opposing any view other than a 24-hour day creation narrative. Instead, the report’s focus on peace and unity over dogma opened the way for widespread adoption of the framework interpretation. This solved the supposed conflict of Genesis 1 and 2 read into Scripture by biblical literalists who believed those chapters to be historical and allowed Scripture to comport with the settled science of an earth that is billions of years old:
The Committee has been unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days. Nevertheless, our goal has been to enhance the unity, integrity, faithfulness and proclamation of the Church. Therefore we are presenting a unanimous report with the understanding that the members hold to different exegetical viewpoints.
From that point forward, the framework interpretation grew in popularity in PCA feeder seminaries until it became the majority interpretation in the PCA. This opened the way for a more reasonable application of the Westminster Standards that in 2025 brought to an end the practice of requiring PCA elders to take “exceptions” to that extra-biblical document when they disagreed with some of its misreadings of Scripture.
The second step came in 2004 when the PCA’s General Assembly approved the Pastoral Letter on Racism recommended by the Committee on Mission to North America. In the letter, the committee clearly identified the PCA’s racist heritage:
Since we are a product of this expressed intention to be the continuing Presbyterian Church, it is crucial that we repent of those [racist] teachings and actions in our history that are sinful, make a clear break from them and establish a new beginning in obedience, by God’s grace.
This may seem like a small step viewed from more than 30 years in the future, but it its day it was nothing short of miraculous–given where the PCA had come from:
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was more than merely complicit in racism. The PCA exists only because of its founders’ defense of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. … The narrative most commonly heard in PCA churches is that it formed to protect and keep the faith and avoid the slide into liberalism. But this is akin to the belief that the south seceded because of states’ rights.
Even more important than this declaration, however, was the willingness of the PCA to adapt Scriptural language about peoples and nations to our day by interpreting them through the lens of the modern understanding of racism. This eventually opened the way in the 2020s for the contextual interpretation of Scripture by applying the concept that the words in the Bible describe the revelation of God that actually occurred prior to its being recorded in Scripture, rather than being the direct revelation of God themselves.
Even with these milestones, the PCA did not break the stronghold of fundamentalism overnight. Yet the roots were in place and took hold over time. And did so primarily through the application of the new perspectives on Scripture to four different issues in four different geographic centers:
- The Role of Women in the Church – New York City
- Gay Christianity – St. Louis
- Two Kingdoms Theology – Southern California
- A Woman’s Right to Choose – Tennessee
We’ll examine each of these briefly.
The Role of Women in the Church – New York City
Today the misogynic practice of ordaining only men is confined to a few, largely irrelevant denominations like the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches, the Christian Presbyterian Church (formerly known as Vanguard Presbytery, which merged with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 2026), the Evangel Presbytery, and the Southwestern Baptist Church (which split off from the Southern Baptists in 2029). But when the PCA was formed in the early 1970s, the male patriarchy still had a firm hold on a number of denominations.
In the PCA, this began to change at Redeemer New York under Tim Keller. It started with giving women more prominent roles in worship services such as reading Scripture and leading prayers (at first with their husbands) and serving communion. Next was organizing “deaconesses” to support the work of deacons. Then came the practice of ordaining deaconesses. When the accidental ordaining of a deaconess at Redeemer with the same language used for male deacons met with little objection, the practice really took off in the denomination, aided by the PCA’s 2017 report on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church (“God’s first and primary example of a united, loving community imaging Him was male and female together”).
Still, as late as 2023, PCA elders who wanted to follow the affirming practice of ordaining women elders had to go to other denominations, such as another PCW predecessor the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). But in 2024, the General Assembly responded affirmatively to Overture 16 from the Metropolitan New York Presbytery that resolved
we will not disagree on the basic essentials of the Christian faith, but on anything that is not essential—such as the issue of ordaining women as officers—we will give each other liberty.
Even prior to this, though, progress had been made in elevating the role of women in society when it came to the institution of marriage. Many PCA pastors had stopped preaching about male headship in marriage ceremonies, while sessions had started taking a hard line toward men who ruled their families through fear, intimidation, and abuse.
Gay Christianity – St. Louis
It is hard to imagine a time when all of God’s children were not accepted by the Presbyterian church as God had made them, but this was certainly the case in the PCA, along with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Gay Christians, even those who chose to be celibate, were openly shunned by those who identified as “evangelical” Christians.
Change began in earnest, however, when the third PCW predecessor, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), changed the definition of marriage in its constitution to include a “commitment between two people.” In doing this in 2015, it formally recognized gay marriage as Christian and allowed same-sex weddings in every congregation.