The session I serve on is concerned about lots of “churchy” things like church discipline, proper doctrine and worship in the church, and growth (of all types) in our local body. That’s our strategy.
When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America convenes at the end of this month in Nashville a Strategic Plan will be considered that would prove nothing less than revolutionary if adopted. The approval and implementation of this plan would change the face of the PCA forever and one assumes sweeping change is the goal of the plan’s authors. As a ruling elder in a mid-sized, strongly confessional PCA congregation, I’d love to see change in our denomination – but not the type envisioned by the Strategic Plan.
The session I serve on is concerned about lots of “churchy” things like church discipline, proper doctrine and worship in the church, and growth (of all types) in our local body. That’s our strategy. The Strategic Plan is not about these “churchy” concerns. Let me be blunt: the Strategic Plan is about being “cool” and it is opposed to the “square.” The three themes of the “Overview of the PCA Strategic Plan” (the portion of the larger plan that commissioners will be asked to vote on) make this abundantly clear.
The first theme “Safe Places” is an obvious attempt at raising the PCA’s cool quotient. This section calls for public forums at the General Assembly and presbytery level to “test ideas without vote or risk.” What need the holders of any new ideas fear in the current environment provided they are in accord with the Westminster Standards and Book of Church Order? The risk referred to is, I fear, the risk of being tried for deviation from our confessional standards.
“Without vote” means without fear of being voted down for being heterodox, erroneous, or unwise in the judgment of the assembled elders, thereby damaging someone’s self esteem or thwarting their plans for change. Need I mention that the standards and BCO (orthodoxy) are decidedly uncool?
The second theme “More Seats” is a barely-concealed call to lower standards for ordination, devalue the wisdom of the experienced and the trained, and weaken the biblical pattern of church leadership by men ordained to the biblical offices of elder and deacon. Rigorous standards, boring old guys, and biblical church order are uncool. The decidedly egalitarian and multicultural vision of “more seats” is much cooler and much more in keeping with the spirit of the age.
The last theme, “In God’s Global Mission,” advocates a hodgepodge of means that sound like something from a 1990s era Southern Baptist Convention “mission thrust’” on one hand, and suggests dumping our funny-looking, even squarer cousins (NAPARC sister denominations) on the other. Both smell of pragmatism. The old SBC strategy of find out where God is working and join Him there sounds a lot cooler than going about the slow, laborious task of building local churches in far-flung, difficult fields. Shedding our old relations (with whom we claim to agree on so many important matters of doctrine and church life) is also really cool, especially if we pick up some rich, good-looking friends in the process!
At the risk of being terminally uncool, I plan to vote against this plan for vast and far-reaching change, no matter how relevant, culturally attuned, or well-intentioned it may seem. The last vow taken by every PCA elder to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church cannot be upheld, in my mind, apart from a concern for doctrinal purity and precision, and a firm adherence to Presbyterian polity. Right doctrine and proper church order – cool or not – should underpin all of our strategies.
Brad Isbell is a ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn.