God is faithfully raising up new generations of men to shepherd His people and hold the PCA to faithfulness. Let us continue to pray His blessing upon His church for her next 50 years.
One former PCA Moderator characterized the Memphis Assembly as “the most significant in a generation.” The PCA has been at a crossroads (as noted among other places here, here, and here) as she decides whether to be a confessional, Reformed Church committed to walking in the old paths of piety and discipleship or a broadly evangelical, culturally missional, reactionary communion.
In Memphis, the Assembly chose to walk in the old paths of the Reformed faith as evidenced by both the acts of the assembly and the men elected to her permanent committees, agencies, and Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). In addition to the greater manifestation of unity, a return to growth numerically and in terms of giving, increased elder participation, and unity on chastity for officers, there were other, less obvious encouragements not to be overlooked regarding the health of the PCA. God is richly blessing the PCA.
1. Rising Ministerial Standards
Wednesday’s Assembly-Wide Seminar featured reflections and aspirations from four elders from the PCA’s founding generation. In his address, former Moderator TE Charles McGowan noted his recollection that the PCA was founded as a “big tent movement,” yet he remarked how the PCA has grown stronger and more “theologically focused.” He noted how in the early days, the PCA had received pastors who would not be received today, because our communion has become more “clearly and definitely Reformed.”
This is a welcome marker of good health for the PCA. Rather than loosening standards and confessional atrophy, the PCA’s expectations for ministers have become more robust as the denomination insists on a deeper commitment to Reformed Theology.
In his address to the First General Assembly, TE O. Palmer Robertson seemed to predict this very thing as he proclaimed,
By adopting the Westminster Confession of Faith as the basis for its fellowship and ministry, the Continuing Church takes its stand unequivocally for the faith once delivered to the saints…
…No narrowing fundamentalism is to mar the vision of this church as it searches out the implications of Scripture for the totality of human life. It is to the faith of Christianity in its fulness, as it relates to the whole of creation, that the Continuing Church commits itself. In humble dependence on the Holy Spirit to enlighten and empower, the Continuing Church commits itself to the Christian faith in its wholeness…
…Knowing his body to be one, we rejoice in the oneness we now experience, with all who are committed to the same precious faith. May the Lord of his church be pleased to hasten the perfecting of that unity with himself and among us, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”
TE Robertson’s proclamation those 50 years ago has proven true. The PCA is now more robustly Reformed with both high standards for officers and a zeal for the lost: to know Him and to make Him known. These increasingly high standards manifest a faith in God to sovereignly provide for His Church as we submit to the qualifications and the truths set forth in His word.
2. Commitment to Historic PCA Polity
The Hodge-Thornwell debate on church boards of the 19th Century continues to echo in the assemblies of the PCA. Overture 7 from Southern New England Presbytery proposed a small change to the Rules of Assembly Operation that required the committees and agency boards of the General Assembly to annually give account to the Assembly regarding their faithfulness to the Assembly’s instructions as well as submit any significant policy changes to the Assembly for approval.
This reinforces the PCA’s commitment not to have true “boards” for its agencies, but committees that are subservient to the General Assembly. In the old PCUS, the boards were the strongholds of liberalism and worldliness; the late TE Harry Reeder referred to this phenomenon not as “mission creep,” but mission exchange.
To prevent this, the PCA founding fathers designed a system of government to limit the power of PCA agencies by making them committees and dependent on the Assembly rather than with authority largely independent from the Assembly. You can read more about the development of and tension within the PCA’s polity in David Hall’s new volume surveying the PCA’s first half-century.
Fittingly at our 50th Assembly, the PCA reaffirmed her commitment to her historic ecclesiology as the Assembly adopted stronger language to hold accountable the permanent committees and agencies via the committees of commissioners.
This accountability promotes the health and efficacy of our agencies and committees; the permanent committees are able to develop vision and long-term strategies, while at the same time the General Assembly is able to more fully oversee their work and ensure a robust commitment to that Reformed faith of which TE McGowan spoke in his address. In this way both the permanent committees and committees of commissioners spur one another on to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and their specific missions.