In the end, the PCA did something that no other denomination had ever done before. “Committees of commissioners” were created to oversee the work of the permanent committees. In this manner, the presbyteries as courts of the church oversee the work of the committees through the ruling and teaching elders working as committees of commissioners. The courts of the church, not the committees or the administrators, lead the church. The presbyteries, the sessions, and the General Assembly as courts of the church will determine the future of the church.
I had the great privilege of being among the delegates to the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which was formed 50 years ago at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This current anniversary celebration provides an opportunity to think back to our origins and consider how those origins might point us toward our future as the Presbyterian Church in America, one among many true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ worldwide.
Consider three essential elements of the PCA’s past that will guide our future.
The PCA came into existence because its founders believed the Bible was “the only infallible rule” of what you are to believe and how you are to live. The Word of God alone is capable of creating among sinners a body of people that may be presented to Christ as a “pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Nothing else has the power to sanctify the church of the Lord Jesus Christ other than the Bible.
We have our secondary standards: the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. These beloved standards are essential to our life together. But let us never forget that our primary standard is the Bible and the Bible alone. If our church is ever to have peace and unity, it can only be achieved by the common commitment of all that are involved to a glad acceptance of what the Bible as the Word of God says.
We proud Presbyterians might benefit a little by humbling ourselves and learning from our Baptist brothers. Consider Billy Graham, the son of a North Carolina farmer, a good old Tar Heel. He was the counselor to five consecutive presidents of the United States. He preached to the Queen of England, and the rumor in England is that the queen was converted to true Christianity through his preaching. He lectured to the intellectuals at Oxford University. In one sermon, he preached to over a million people in Seoul, South Korea.
What was the trademark of the ministry of Billy Graham, our Baptist brother? If you ever heard him preach, you will never forget. Gesturing to an open Bible stretched forward to his hearers, he slashes the air with his hand and declares, “The Bible says!”
In the old denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), commonly known as the southern presbyterian church, persistent efforts were made to get rid of the Westminster Confession of Faith, or at least to water it down.
The PCA was born, in part, because we could not live in a denomination that no longer held to the Westminster Confession of Faith as its authoritative statement of what we believed.
The first General Assembly of the PCA adopted a message to the watching world. At the bottom of that statement, you will find 296 signatures of ruling and teaching elders. If you’re interested, you can find my signature in column two. But what is it that we wanted to communicate to the world by this statement?
We declare that we believe the system of doctrine found in the Word of God to be the system known as the Reformed faith. We are committed without reservation to the Reformed faith as set forth in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. (emphasis added)
Compare this statement of our faith to the beautiful wool sweater you bought while you were visiting Scotland. Your precious sweater has one dangling thread that’s come loose.