We cannot continue to amend our Standards by exception. Again, on this issue and others as well, if there are those who do not believe our current Standards are an accurate exposition of Scripture, then submit overtures [proposing changes] to the General Assembly for debate.
A few weeks ago I attended the 40th General Assembly of the PCA. As one who has been part of the PCA since the start either as member of a PCA church or a Teaching Elder, I do bring a long term perspective to what I saw and heard in Louisville.
I would like to list some of my concerns and then possible solutions.
1. The poor attendance at General Assembly. I know the economy is poor, but having only 1,075 commissioners is embarrassing. Having less than 300 Ruling Elder commissioners is even more embarrassing. Either the financial cost is too great or there is very little interest in attending General Assembly.
2. The debate on the National Association of Evangelicals- This is not going away. I know that it would have been embarrassing to vote ourselves out of the NAE while our Stated Clerk holds an important position in that body, however, if the World story on the NAE and its $1,000,000 grant to hand out contraceptives to single Christians had come out the day before the vote, the vote could have gone another way. It is clear in our Standards that chastity is expected of all those who are not in the married state.
3. The question of padeocommunion- In the course of this debate, we have traveled the land from Dan to Beersheba. It seems every year the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) comes back with a minority report on padeocommunion. This year we had conflicting minority reports on the subject because presbyteries where either granting or not granting exceptions. The Assembly gave RPR the task of coming back with a unified report.
4. Theistic evolution- the question of theistic evolution raised its head again, this time it is over the special creation of Adam and Eve (WLC Q&A17). The Assembly answered an overture by saying the Scriptures and the Standards were a sufficient answer. Those who want an in thesi statement were not happy with this vote.
5. The practice of intinction-the debate on Thursday night on the practice of intinction was interesting to say the least. First of all, I would like to commend almost all who spoke on the floor during the Minority Report and our Moderator, TE Mike Ross, who kept the debate where it needed to be even at the lateness of the hour. The Minority Report carried by a small margin. The PCA will continue this debate because the Minority Report carried with a change to BCO 58.
6. The budgets for the various committees and agencies. As normal they passed without dissent. Also, I expect to get many letters over the course of the year asking for money, when it looks like some committees or agencies will not meet their budget. The plan to increase the fee from $400 to $450 for GA registration and the suggested contribution of $100 per Teaching Elder passed as well.
Now back to each one with some suggestions for the future.
1. Attendance at General Assembly-In my opinion, the family vacation/continuing education model has largely failed, if the purpose is to get more Ruling Elders at General Assembly. Is it time to move to a delegated assembly and let each Presbytery bear the cost of sending delegates to the Assembly? I believe it is time for us to start having this discussion.
2. NAE- I understand the argument of those who want to stay in the NAE. However, when the NAE did what they did with the $1,000,000 grant for contraceptives, it is going to be harder to argue to stay in when their policies are in opposition to what we believe Scriptures teaches. Also, as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of J&R, it is time to either looking at joining with other NAPARC churches either through J&R or merger. At the very least, more visible unity through shared worship services.
3. Padeocommunion-It is time for the padeocommunion crowd to bring, through their Presbyteries to the General Assembly, overtures with their Scriptural exegesis to change our Standards. It is clear they think the Standards are wrong on the subject of padeocommunion. It is up to those who think the Standards are wrong, to bring overtures to General Assembly so we can debate them. The RPR has an impossible task to bring one report back to the Assembly next year. Also, we cannot continue to amend our Standards by exception. Again, on this issue and others as well, if there are those who do not believe our current Standards are an accurate exposition of Scripture, then submit overtures to the General Assembly for debate.
4. Theistic evolution- In 1982, then head football coach of Auburn University, Pat Dye, on his weekly call in show, said, “There is going to be a bloodletting in Birmingham Saturday.” This was said before the annual game with rival Alabama. What the overture committee and the vote of the Assembly has said is this: if you believe that a Teaching or Ruling Elder is teaching theistic evolution, then file charges and have a trial. Would this be a bloodletting in the PCA? I do not know, but this is the course of action which was implied by the Assembly vote. The Minority Report using the language of the PCUS, though stronger, was not going to pass. The language is dates back to the Woodrow case and it did not stop the march toward evolution, theistic or full blown Darwinism in the PCUS.
5. The practice of intinction-the good thing is this debate is going to make us, as a church, to re-examine what we believe about the Lord’s Supper. Just not the sacramental actions but the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and it use as a means of grace. I would encourage all Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders to study this issue so that when we debate it on the floors of our respective Presbyteries, it can be an informed debated.
6. Budgets for committee and agencies-this is the one thing that never fails to shock me at General Assembly. We vote on millions of dollars without any questions asked. The only real debate about any budget has been on the AC budget. Even then, it has been focused on the byFaith print edition. I wonder what would have happened, before we changed the rules of debate, if someone had stood up and offered a substitute motion with a whole different budget. The budgets are going to be a sore point with many for different reasons. Many of our churches are finding it difficult in these times just to pay their pastor, let alone give to presbytery or General Assembly causes. It is not that they do not want to do so. The fact of the matter is that they are making tough economic choices. Local is going to win out over global in this economy.
Despite the protest of some, the increase of $50 is not going to make a difference to most churches. Many smaller churches have quit sending commissioners to the Assembly, so they are currently not paying the registration fees. Those churches that are sending commissioners are more likely to be able to handle the $50 increase in the fee. I will be curious to see how many Teaching Elders pay the $100.
In closing let me say that I love the PCA. There is no other church body that I would rather be in, either as a member or Teaching Elder. However, we have major issues among us that cannot be ignored indefinitely. It is time to face these issues head on and trust the King and Head of the Church with the outcomes.
David Gilleran is a Teaching Elder in the PCA and is retired chaplain from the Virginia National Guard. He serves as Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Martinsville, VA (home of two NASCAR races a year!!) and as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Blue Ridge.