The problem of lack of peace in the PCA is because we disagree regarding matters so essential as the three core marks of the Church (WCF 25:4, Worship, Sacraments, Gospel). If we disagree on these essentials, we will not agree on a united vision on the mission of the Church. These are not mere semantic disagreements.
I grew up in a city with a Presbyterian seminary where breakfast tacos are renowned. But I wasn’t a Presbyterian; I was reared Lutheran.
However, and through no fault of my parents, I became a Dispensationalist through the television ministrations of one wealthy former presidential candidate. He urged viewers like me to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” with the assurance that as I sought the blessing of the Jews in “their” city, I too would be blessed.
But in college, through the ministry of Rev. Irfon Hughes and the other elders at Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, I was introduced to a better, fuller way to understand the Scripture. Instead of trying to understand the Bible through the lens of current geopolitics and the news, I learned to see the Scripture as centered on God and His glory as He redeemed His Church through the blood of His Son.
This changed my whole understanding of the Scripture and, of course, my life.
I. Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem
Psalm 122 is not about praying for the Jewish ethnic group to hold a certain town, but rather the peace that flows from God’s love for, blessing in, and reign over His Church: the place where He meets with His saints.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!
The PCA is troubled and not characterized by peace within her courts despite our vows placing a premium on peace. Both for members:
Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
And especially for officers:
Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity[,] and edification of the Church?
I believe the absence of peace in PCA courts is the product of a lack of purity; we don’t agree on core matters of what it is to be a Reformed Church.
Note how Psalm 122 marvels at the “thrones for judgment…of the House of David” set in Zion immediately before calling the saints to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Right judgment must be established in the Church before the Church can have peace. To put it another way: purity must be secured before peace can be enjoyed; until the PCA unites to work for the purity of the Church, she will not have peace.
Our Confession reminds us there will be no completely pure church until Christ returns:
Particular churches…are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
—Westminster Confession of Faith, 25:4
Westminster gives three marks of the Church, which together are a superb measure of church health:
- The Gospel Rightly Preached (biblically)
- Sacraments Rightly Administered (biblically)
- God Rightly Worshiped (biblically)
Those three issues are at the core of our disagreements in the PCA.1
II. Confusion in the Marks of the Church
A. Biblical Worship
In a recent episode of the most influential and significant podcast within the PCA, Elder Doug Sharp noted the difficulty of recommending a PCA church to travelers because of the broad diversity reflected in our congregations, which is nowhere more pronounced than in worship.
1. What is Worship, and Who Leads It?
Recent events suggest there is not agreement on what public worship is in the PCA. A prominent congregation in New York featured a purportedly ordained woman “teaching” in the worship service (or was it just an event that looked like a worship service; the church website lists it under “sermons,” but the page itself says it was a “BIBLE STUDY”?).2
Whether the event was understood to be a bible study or a service of public worship remains ambiguous, but what is not unclear is that the Lord’s Supper was observed during this event, which raises another issue: the propriety of observing the Lord’s Supper without the preaching of the Word. It seems there is no unity of understanding in the PCA regarding the distinction between public worship and other activities of the Church.
The example of an Episcopalian priestess preaching (or was it teaching?) in a PCA congregation may be something of an extreme, but not unique. One former Covenant Seminary administrator even took to social media to celebrate his daughter the preacher at an event in another faith communion: