The PCA General Assembly for 2011 received an overture from Potomac Presbytery concerning a problem with translations of the bible into languages used primarily in the Muslim world It seems a number of groups are making translations that do not use the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ when referring to the first and second persons of the Trinity.
The Committee of Commissioners overwhelmingly agreed with the sentiment of the overture and recommended approval of the overture with a few changes in the wording. The approved statement – which becomes the positions statement of the Presbyterian Church in America on this is – reads as follows:
“A Call To Faithful Witness”
Whereas; the Church is called to take the gospel to all peoples, including those who have historically been resistant to the gospel,
Whereas; contextualizing the language and forms of the gospel, while remaining faithful to the truths of Scripture, is good and necessary for the advancement of the gospel,
Whereas; the Church must exercise wisdom in discerning appropriate expressions of contextualization, reserving its public corrections for genuine and substantive threats to the gospel,
Whereas; in recent initiatives known as “Insider Movements”, some groups have produced Bible translations that have replaced references to Jesus as “Son” (huios) with terms such as “Messiah” in order to be more acceptable to Muslims,
Whereas, some Bible translations of Insider Movements have replaced references to God as “Father” (pater) with terms such as “Guardian” and “Lord”
Whereas; these Bible translations are harmful to the doctrines of the authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ, bringing confusion to people in need of Christ—concerns that are held by many national leaders and Bible societies,
Whereas; some PCA churches have knowingly or unknowingly financially supported these Bible translations,
Whereas; Muslims should not be denied a full and faithful witness,
Therefore be it resolved that the 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
1. Affirms that biblical motivations of all those who seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard or responded to the gospel should be encouraged;
2. Repents of complacency or comfort that keep us from a faithful witness;
3. Declares as unfaithful to God’s revealed Word, Insider Movement or any translations of the Bible that remove from the text references to God as “Father” or Jesus as “Son,” because such removals compromise the doctrines of the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Scripture;
4. Encourages PCA congregations to assess whether the missionaries and agencies they support use or promote Bible translations that remove familial language in reference to persons of the Trinity, and if so, to withdraw their support;
5. Encourages PCA congregations to support biblically sound and appropriately contextualized efforts to see Christ’s Church established among resistant peoples;
6. Calls PCA churches and agencies to collaborate with each other and the broader Church to discern and implement biblical authority in gospel contextualization;
So far so good. With the support of the Permanent Committee on Mission to the World this statement was present and was clearly about to be approved by the General Assembly. But then there was a point of order.
As reported in these pages on Tuesday, the Presbytery had asked that a study committee be erected to help inform the church about the seriousness of these problems. The Permanent Committee on Mission to the World recommended that this not be done. But the Committee of Commissioners, by a vote of 21-5 (with two abstentions) voted to recommend to the GA the committee be approved.
The problem came in the way the Committee of Commissioners brought their report to the floor. For the sake of convenience during their deliberations, they separated the issue of the general statement from discussion on the study committee, even though Potomac Presbytery had included it as Point 7 of their overture. It read as follows:
7. As an aid to greater gospel faithfulness, authorizes the Moderator to appoint a study committee to report to the 40th General Assembly concerning Insider Movements, including but not limited to the matter of Bible translation, the report to include appropriate policy guidelines for Mission to the World and local PCA churches, the budget for the study committee to be determined by the Stated Clerk’s office based upon the standard formula used by that office
When the reported of the Committee of Commissioners came to the floor they brought two separate recommendations – one with the revised language with which everyone agreed; and one recommending a study committee, but with new, expanded business.
It now appeared on paper as two separate issues – a response to Overture 9 which had removed the original language of the request for the study committee and a separate motion with the new language requesting a study committee.
TE David Coffin asked the moderator to rule that separate recommendation out of order as new business, since the immediately preceding recommendation dealt with the overture. The Moderator (looking reluctant to some observers) ruled that was the case. There ensued a long and complex discussion on how to deal with the ‘technicality’ that most commissioners understood was correct but was not what the Assembly wanted to do.
Finally a motion was made to TE Fred Greco of Houston Metro Presbytery made a motion to recommit the recommendation concerning Overture 9 back to the Committee of Commissioners and to report back to the Assembly on Friday morning. The Moderator, jokingly (or not) asked the Chairman of the Committee of Commissioners if they wanted to meet at midnight (which most expected would be close to the adjournment time on Thursday since there was to be a working session after the 7:30PM worship service.
On Friday, the Committee of Commissioners came back to the floor, utilizing a corrected form for their motion. First the Assembly overwhelmingly, without dissent, recommended the approval of the slightly revised statement that was proposed on Thursday (reported above).
Then, the recommended that a study committee be approved. They substituted new language to replace the language in the original Potomac Presbytery overture, as follows:
That the 39th General Assembly of the PCA, as an aid to greater gospel faithfulness throughout the PCA and the broader Church, authorizes the Moderator to appoint a study committee to report to the 40th General Assembly concerning Insider Movements, including but not limited to
– A summary and biblical assessment of Insider Movements; history, philosophies, and practices.
– A biblical response to interpretations of Scripture used in defense of Insider Movements.
– An examination of the theological impact of removing familial language for the Trinity from Bible translations.
– An assessment of PCA missions partners regarding the influence of Insider Movement within them, including assessment of their theology of religion, ecclesiology, Scripture, and relationship to the Emergent Church.
– An explanation of the relevance and importance of this issue for the PCA.
– Suggestions for identifying and assessing the influence of Insider Movements among mission agencies, missionaries and organizations.
– Recommended resources for faithfully training and equipping congregations to reach Muslims locally and internationally
In anticipation of the motions for this study committee being approved, the Assembly had approved on Thursday a recommendation from the AC CoC to set a budget of $15,000 for the committee and require that the money be raised through designated giving (which has been the standard practice in the PCA for many years).
After a period of debate during which the Coordinator of MTW spoke against the study (as he had to the meeting of the Committee of commissioners) repeating that he didn’t think it was necessary and adding that he didn’t believe it would have influence on the Insider Movement.
It required a counted vote which favored approval of the motion by 295 yes to 199 no.
(Editor’s Note: This vote count indicates that a significant percentage of the commissioners stayed over for the final morning in order to act on this and the Overtures Committee which followed. We will have our story on the Overtures Committee posted later on Friday due to the Editor’s travel commitments.)