My use of “paper tiger” when describing the PCA is slightly different than the standard definition. There are many good things going on in the PCA that profitable for gospel ministry that are certainly not façades. When I say the PCA may be a paper tiger, I mean that the PCA is strong on paper but not in practice, especially when it comes to the “Twelve Statements,” in the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality.
Paper vs. Practice
The phrase paper tiger conveys the idea that outwardly something or someone is strong or powerful, but in reality, inwardly, is weak or ineffectual. A paper tiger may be an organization, a nation, or a person, that looks powerful or demonstrates an outward show of strength but is, in fact, only a façade. It occurred to me today while reflecting on the latest round of overtures, and the cause(s) that precipitated many of them, that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) may very well be something of a paper tiger.
Of course, my use of “paper tiger” when describing the PCA is slightly different than the standard definition. There are many good things going on in the PCA that profitable for gospel ministry that are certainly not façades. When I say the PCA may be a paper tiger, I mean that the PCA is strong on paper but not in practice, especially when it comes to the “Twelve Statements,” in the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality, pp. 6-13 (hereafter, study report). The PCA has not yet applied and integrated these statements into practice in the Book of Church Order (BCO). These statements are “biblically useful” but the PCA has not used them. To be clear, our stated formal values, which are also our proper animating values, are found in Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and the BCO. However, at this moment we should be using the study report, which is widely supported across the PCA. The study report draws its principles from the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards to explain, clarify and apply these principles to the qualifications of men to be ordained as church officers.
Since the Ad Interim Committee published its study report in May 2020, I have heard or read dozens of articles, podcasts, and interviews–from all sides–about how the PCA unanimously supports the report. Indeed, this is something for which our denomination should be encouraged–that there is general unity on the understanding of biblical sexuality. Unfortunately, while there appears to be much agreement by looking back to the study report, there doesn’t appear to be much discussion on looking ahead to discern the times. To my mind, there seems to be more effort put on nuancing terms and words instead of applying Scripture to give us discernment to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).
The committee states the following in the Introduction to the study report:
Herein the Committee has sought to address the issues and questions assigned to it for study by the 47th General Assembly. Although we are not making any formal recommendations, we hope and pray that this Report will be unifying, edifying, and Biblically useful for our denomination. [Emphasis mine]
Presently, the study report has been broadly unifying and genuinely edifying for our denomination. However, it hasn’t yet been widely applied. Let us pray that one of proposed overtures submitted to the 49th PCA General Assembly (see Overtures 12, 15, 20, 23, 29, and 31) will be approved and sent to the Presbyteries for approval. Then we will be able to see the biblical view of human sexuality, clearly delineated in the study report, studied and practiced in the PCA.
Unity and Purity
The PCA has been blessed with the production of a solidly biblical study report. The 49th PCA GA has the opportunity to approve wording consistent with the study report that overcomes some of the objections alleged to have been in Overtures 23 and 37. Many have expressed the sense of unity based on with the principles laid out in the study report. What we need now is to focus on our need for common sense of purity by including the biblical and theological precision found in the report into the BCO.
Ray M. Sanchez is a Ruling Elder in the Grace Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.