Even though the PCA consists of men who love the Lord and love our standards, it is greatly divided. The future still looks dim, but light continues to shine in the most unusual places at the most inopportune times. I attribute this to fervent prayer. Never discount the providence of God to change things. My fear today in the modern evangelical world is that energized holiness is being replaced by quiet piety, and therapeutic theology under the guise of love has replaced the Law of God.
I was not there, but I watched most of the 49th PCA General Assembly (GA) online. I’m actually elated, if only for a short time. Let me tell you why.
- The enrollment was the largest ever with 2380 commissioners registered. I don’t have the demographics, but this indicates to me that many ruling elders from our most conservative churches, especially in the southern states, turned out in large numbers. People in the pew are angry with the direction of the PCA. I know of a number of churches who sent commissioners telling them “to fight for the truth.” These churches had not sent commissioners to the GA for many years.
- If the National Partnership (a progressive caucus of well-known leaders in the PCA) was active, its influence was not detected. No doubt they lost on a number of key issues. It is encouraging to think that the National Partnership (NP) cannot overrule the actions of the commissioners at the General Assembly. The NP has endured bad PR over the last year, and they have not recovered. What we saw in the Assembly was a “popular revolt.” The candidate of the conservative Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) was not elected as Moderator, but unlike the Southern Baptist Convention who elects a President with numerous powers, the PCA elects a moderator of the assembly whose influence stops after the Assembly. Highly capable and virtuous men are usually elected as Moderator, and such was the case again this year with the election of RE John Bise.
- The first major victory for the conservatives was the vote to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelical (NAE). The NAE has become part of the woke movement, and their political statements do not reflect the sentiments of most members in the PCA. This proposal has been before the Assembly on a number of occasions in the past, but was always defeated, usually after a speech by Dr. Roy Taylor, the former Stated Clerk. Respect for him has always been so high that he would usually tip the vote in the direction of staying in the NAE. Not this year! The vote to leave was approved by a 60-40 ratio. Taylor filed a protest, but that was all he could do. The Assembly had spoken.
- The major event again this year was the issue of homosexual officers. The proposed amendments to change the Book of Church Order last year failed, but this did not stop the grass roots from coming back again. Two new overture numbers you now need to remember are 15 and 29.
- Overture 29 cleaned up the language of the proposed changes to the BCO that failed last year, and was easily adopted. It will be sent back to the presbyteries for a 2/3 vote, and I suspect that it will pass not only at the presbytery level, but also at the GA meeting next year in Memphis. I call it the generic overture. It reflects the position of the Ad-Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality which has been widely praised by the PCA as a whole. TE Greg Johnson rose to say that he could accept the wording of this proposed change to the Book of Church Order (BCO), but he also said that it was not kind and loving enough to the gay community. This confirms my point in a previous article in The Aquila Report that the language of this Overture can be so tweaked that it will change nothing “Targeting Homosexual Officers in the PCA Again: Are We Being too Nice?”
- The “Jack in the Box” of the whole Assembly was Overture 15 which came out of Westminster Presbytery. This Overture to amend the BCO was submitted last year but was rejected by a simple reference to the actions of the Assembly on other related overtures. Last year it disappeared into the darkness. The original wording stated, “Any man who identifies himself as a homosexual (even if his practices celibacy in that self-identification) shall be disqualified from holding office in the PCA.” It was edited slightly before passage. One of the weakest arguments against this overture was that it proposed a change to the wrong place in the BCO. A common strategy in assembly meetings is death by procedural maneuvers. It did not work this time. Many members of the Assembly were “hungry” for a statement like this. Concise and to the point! Early in the debate, one commissioner rose and stated his disappointment with Overture 29 since it did not speak specifically to the issue of homosexual identity. What was he going to tell his congregation at home? He knew he needed some good news, and Overture 29 did not give that to him. He was told to wait until the consideration of Overture 15.
- The highlight of the Assembly was the appearance of Dr. O. Palmer Robertson who has been absent it seems for decades. I sat under Dr. Robertson as Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (1969-1972). Robertson has been serving in Uganda as a missionary for 25 years and it appeared to me that he has not been keeping up with all the dialogue about homosexual officers. However, he was like a man resurrected from the past who spoke a different language than what is heard today in seminaries and progressive churches. He spoke with intellectual passion and read Romans 1:26-28. He pointed to the word “perversion” and how words like “sodomy” and “sodomite” were not used any more. I believe his speech tipped the Assembly to approve Overture 15. If nothing else comes from this Assembly, then at least modern seminary-trained teaching elders now are able to see how much seminary training has changed over the last 50 years. To listen to Dr. Robertson’s speech go here.
- Overture 15 passed by an initial vote of 1094 to 1044, just a 50-vote margin. Yes, I understand what most people are saying about this. It will never pass the high threshold of 2/3 of the presbyteries. I will say two things about that. First, I never thought it would even make it to the floor of the General Assembly for a vote, but I was wrong. I don’t think it will pass the presbytery vote either, but I could be wrong again. A year is a long time, and sometimes providential events change the course of history. Second, even if it does not pass the high bar set by the BCO, it was a moment of jubilance anyway. It was needed to encourage the souls of those who have been losing most battles in years past. I’ll take the joy and wallow in it for a while. If all the conservatives who have left the PCA would have stayed and fought with us, the victories would have been larger and sweeter.
- Other items to note include the fact that 25% of the Assembly voted not re-elect the current Stated Clerk. This was highly unusual. However, the missing link in the Assembly was the absence of any discussion about the $13.5 million taken by the PCA Boards and Agencies from the federal government (via the Small Business Administration) during the covid crisis. See the Aquila Report “PCA Committees and Agencies Received At Least $13.5 Million From the Small Business Payroll Protection Program in 2020.” Under what was called the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), these entities received money from the federal government in the form of loans. If those loans were properly used as restricted by the federal government, then they were forgiven. They never have to be paid back. The PCA is proud of her heritage of not getting involved in political matters (except by way of humble petition), but when it comes to taking free money from the State (taxpayers of whom many who are not Christians), there appears to be no conscientious objection. Nothing was done illegally, but it’s amazing how the modern church can take taxpayer money for free from the State and use it for building of the Kingdom of God. The same civil government that legalizes homosexual marriage and is pushing ungodly transgenderism is the same entity that we go to when we need money. The same State that is targeting the church as an enemy has become our trusted philanthropist in a time of need. What every happened to the separation of church and state?
- Even though the PCA consists of men who love the Lord and love our standards, it is greatly divided. The future still looks dim, but light continues to shine in the most unusual places at the most inopportune times. I attribute this to fervent prayer. Never discount the providence of God to change things. My fear today in the modern evangelical world is that energized holiness is being replaced by quiet piety, and therapeutic theology under the guise of love has replaced the Law of God. But brethren, I am hopeful! Take heart, we who love the PCA are in this for the long run.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.
 The following is the wording approved by the General Assembly: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”