The fact that we have reached a crossroads is a good thing. It indicates the divisions that mostly remained out of sight except occasionally (e.g. during the 2010 proposed “Strategic Plan” or sometimes during the Review of Presbytery Records Report) are now staying in the forefront of the discussion.
As we wait to see whether attempts to amend the Book of Church Order to explicitly prohibit the ordination of a “Gay Christian” will succeed, I remain optimistic about the PCA regardless of the outcome on this issue. I do not believe now is the time to consider leaving the PCA. Now is the time to make sure to be involved in the church courts especially the presbyteries.
The PCA is at a crossroads, which is a good thing; issues that have been under the surface are now coming to the forefront. We are deciding which way to go, and that takes time.
I. Historical Context for the PCA
A. Trajectory of the Presbyterian Church in America
The PCA was founded by churches leaving the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) because of the stranglehold of Liberalism within that denomination. That Liberalism was rooted in the PCUS seminaries, which stunted the Reformed witness of even the best churches in the PCUS.
While the PCA has always been a confessionally Reformed communion, in the last generation she has experienced a renaissance of Reformed faith, piety, and worship thanks in no small measure to the founding of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson.
I witnessed on a small scale the fruit of the patient efforts of RTS Jackson in transforming the churches of Mississippi into vibrant, warm centers of Reformed faith, piety, and worship.
Since that time more seminaries have come to serve the PCA such as “the Westminsters” and Greenville. Faithful professors there have built on the foundation laid at RTS Jackson to educate men in the heritage of the Puritans and Old School Presbyterians.1
Those old paths—so neglected even by the best churches and seminaries of the PCUS during the 20th Century—are celebrated by the institutions training ministers for the service of Christ and His Church in the PCA. And God’s Spirit is doing a mighty work throughout the PCA.
There is a growing number of churches of the PCA that are distinctively devoted to the Reformed Faith as summarized by the Westminster Standards. Over the last 50 years, the churches of the PCA have become more obviously Reformed in character than they were in 1973.
The trajectory of the denomination is not one that is trending toward Liberalism or even progressivism. To consider leaving now, risks discarding the slow and winsome work of a generation that is long been flowering in the churches, which is now bearing abundant fruit throughout the PCA.
Let us be patient and active in the PCA. By the blessing of the Spirit, the ongoing work of faithful Reformed seminaries, and the slow, quiet work of countless elders in many congregations, the future is bright for those in the PCA committed to the historic Reformed Faith.
B. Study the Lutherans
Too many presume an inevitable confessional or conservative retreat to form a new denomination because of what happened with the OPC in 1936 or the PCA in 1973. But that neglects truth’s victories over error in recent decades (and misdiagnoses the PCA’s condition).
There are recent instances of beating back liberalizing (or Barthian) trends in other denominations (e.g. the in ARP). The best example of this is probably the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Seminex.2 Like the PCA, the LCMS is a confessional, Protestant denomination that was battling worldly influences.
The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy simmered longer for the Lutherans than it did for the Presbyterians, but by the 1960s it came to a head. The denomination suspended the liberal president of their flagship seminary, Concordia Seminary Saint Louis, which prompted a walkout by the liberal faculty and students in 1974.
The denomination held its ground against the vocal complaints of aggrieved liberals. But the liberals left for good; several hundred congregations left the LCMS and the liberals faculty founded a new (but quickly defunct) seminary called Seminex.
Because the Lutherans stood their ground, the vast majority of the congregations stayed loyal to the denomination and the LCMS continues as a faithful, confessional, Protestant denomination with nearly two million members today.
While there are no Theological Liberals in the PCA, TE Harry Reeder has ably shown the progressivism plaguing the PCA is “cut from the same bolt of cloth.”3 I believe the LCMS experience with Seminex is instructive for the PCA. Rather than leave the PCA, we can and should hold our ground and hold progressives accountable to our confessional standards (the ones they too profess to embrace).