It is time to face the fact that this Plan will not “unite” the PCA. It has already worsened existing fault lines.
We might debate the whole idea of having a Strategic Plan. We should definitely consider its specific proposals. However, even if we came down in favor of everything about the Strategic Plan, we would still need to evaluate its potential to deliver on its promises. The Plan says that it intends to unify the denomination. Is this something that we can reasonably expect to see happen?
The word “unify” or its cognates appear dozens of times throughout the document. The authors make their intent clear in the introduction: “…we intend to propose plans for using these resources and blessings in ways that we pray will unite and ignite God’s people…” (2). Plainly, they want to unify the denomination, and we have no reason to doubt their sincerity. The question is whether this good intent is effectively borne out by the Plan’s proposals.
The PCA is not unique in finding itself needing to unify. We encountered this problem in the Marine Corps as well. The solution there seemed fairly simple. Everyone knew what they were getting into: an expeditionary force looking for a few good men to be warriors. We could have stayed home, we could have joined other services with other ways of life, but we didn’t. So, when the leadership saw that people were going in different directions they could always recall us to what we had signed up to.
A similar course would seem to be available to the PCA. Men knew exactly what they were standing for when they brought the PCA into existence in 1973. Read the “Message to All Churches” and the “Mission and Purpose.” They knew what they were standing for as well as what they were standing against, which included things like “a diluted theology, a gospel tending towards humanism” and “the ordination of women” (MTAC).
Years passed, and “…many who are entering the ministry of the PCA evidence little understanding or appreciation of this part of our heritage.” So the 14th General Assembly felt it necessary to “…prepare for publication a document explaining the convictions and history of the PCA and the RPC, ES,” warning us of the dangers of inadequate discipline in doctrinal matters and apostasy, defined as “… a process of moving away as well as a condition or state of denial of the faith once believed in” (AES). More recently, I was fairly sure I knew what I was signing up to when I was ordained in a Westminster Confession church bearing the motto “Faithful to Scripture, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.” Perhaps I was naïve, but I was in no particular confusion as to what “obedience to the Great Commission” might mean.
The CMC might have chosen to recall us once more to what we all signed up to. Instead it took another road, one not having the greatest of track records.
This road involves promoting one faction’s agenda while asking the others to compromise for the sake of unity. Indeed, the Plan hits on a range of topics likely to alienate virtually everyone except the favored party. For those who care deeply about the third mark of a true church, there is the creation of “Safe Places.” For those who want to preserve their right to vote at GA even if they would prefer not to support some of the things the administrative committee does, there is the financial policy. For those who are alarmed with the prospect of women in leadership, there are “Seats at the Table.” And of course there are “gospel eco-systems.”
Making the agenda of the progressive left the official policy of the PCA and alienating most everyone else is not a recipe for enhanced unity. Those who believe that this Plan is not what they signed up for when they joined the PCA will have the duty to pursue whatever avenues they have available. Presbyteries will be dragged into inevitable, endless conflicts dealing with the aftermath, in addition to all the subsequent votes the Plan’s BCO proposals would require. And I wonder whether the GA itself is shaping up to be all that unified.
This picture—of a PCA that is rendered less unified because of the Plan—is not entirely theoretical. We have already seen some indications that the Strategic Plan is not going to be able to deliver on its well-intended promise. The Internet is awash with articles and blog entries that suggest we are not entering into a new era of peaceful cooperation.
Shadows of worse things have appeared; one of the Administration Committee’s new FAQs on the Plan has to address the question of congregations leaving the denomination because of this issue. It is time to face the fact that this Plan will not “unite” the PCA. It has already worsened existing fault lines. We pray it will not yet prove to “ignite” us, at least not in ways its authors did not intend.
William M. Schweitzer, PhD, is a Church Planting Minister in Gateshead, England