Results tagged “PCA GA” from Reformation21 Blog

2016 PCA General Assembly: Moving Forward Together

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Having read a number of assessments of the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), it occurs to me that one's perspective, as usual, has a shaping effect on one's view.  My own perspective arises largely from having had the privilege to serve on the Overtures Committee, which presents much of the important business to the floor of the Assembly.  This was my fourth tour on Overtures and it was by far the best experience I have had on the committee.

One reason why the Overtures Committee acted in such a collegial and gracious manner is that our primary business involved a matter on which we were highly united: deliberating the many overtures committing the PCA to racial reconciliation.  Differing opinions on Overtures came with their concerns and, to a high degree, an amended version (Overture 43 from Potomac Presbytery) was sent to the floor that addressed all these concerns.

I heartily agree with my friend Terry Johnson that the PCA's confessing and repenting of racial sins which existed during the time of our founding was long overdue. The most heart-warming moments of the Overtures Committee and the Assembly took place as many of our African American brothers expressed their grateful appreciation.  In my view, the goal of the assembly's statement was whole-heartedly to say to them, "We are so sorry, and we mean it."  Leon Brown's Assembly wrap-up is an example and it is, as Terry said, good for the soul both to confess and forgive. The soul of the PCA was blessed by the 44th General Assembly! Terry expresses concern, however, that the addition of the words "current sins" suggests that no substantial progress has been made. I will only say that this language was deemed necessary by the consensus of the Overtures Committee, due to lingering attitudes that many have experienced.  But this should not suggest a denial of seismic progress in the PCA. The very fact of the racial reconciliation overture, together with the vital leadership provided by African American commissioners to this assembly, shows exactly the opposite. I do not believe that the impression given by this Assembly was that of a retrenched racist denomination-quite the opposite!  All members of the PCA should feel grateful satisfaction both that our denomination made a manful and godly confession and that our aggrieved brothers have received it with such satisfaction.

The most contentious issue at the Assembly was the creation of a study committee to consider women's roles in ministry.  Given the way that gender roles have served as a battering ram against the walls of biblical authority in so many Protestant denominations, progressives should not be surprised that conservatives feel threatened by this initiative. Moreover, conservatives were alarmed that this motion originated not from a presbytery but from the denominational headquarters and were distressed when the moderator overruled a procedural objection against the action. Actual events should relieve much of this anxiety, however, as our well-respected moderator appointed a study committee that is amply stocked with complementarian stalwarts.

I am on record as opposing revisions to the PCA's polity when it comes to women in ordained office (e.g. see this post), and I voted against the study committee. I was also distressed to see a contentious matter like this come from the top in a denomination that has been committed to a bottom-up polity, and I signed the protest against the moderator's ruling. Yet, without wishing to prejudice the study committee's work, I will be astonished if it recommends the ordination of women to the office of deacon. This would be a truly divisive movement and I believe it is contrary to the majority view of our denomination. Moreover, the practice of some churches to install but not ordain women to diaconal service is already permitted by the language of our Book of Church Order (BCO) and churches have been practicing this in the PCA since its expansion in 1982.  In short, churches on the left that demand women's ordination to office and those on the right who cannot tolerate women's non-ordained service with diaconates will have voted with their feet long before now.  In my view, concerned PCA members should prayerfully support the work of this study committee, with what I think is a reasonable hope of a helpful and minimally provocative outcome.

So how do I assess the 2016 General Assembly of the PCA? I see our denomination consolidating around its current positions and compromises. As a conservative, I remain concerned by any number of trends and practices that I wish we would reform in a confessional and biblical direction. Prominent among them are a trend against Word-centered ministries in our missions endeavors, a continued need for more emphasis on grace-centered holiness, and what seems to me as a dangerous tendency towards cultural accommodation. But these concerns, together with the results of our recent Assembly, are not causes for confessional conservatives to check out of the PCA. Quite to the contrary, I see a great opportunity coming out of this assembly for more constructive and effective engagement by conservatives and progressives alike.  I was delighted to make a number of new friends at this year's GA, virtually all of them brothers with whom I have often disagreed.  Now is not the time to harden the party spirit of our differing sides, but the time for all of us constructively to engage with one another - seeking both to understand and be understood.  Thus, while I did not concur with all the actions of the assembly and found myself on the losing side of a good number of votes, I do not feel a general mood of conspiracy and contention.  I would thus urge all of our fathers and brothers to renew our desire and endeavor to move forward together. Yes, there are compromises and significant matters of dispute. But I departed from Mobile, Alabama with a renewed hope that these differences exist within a general consensus for biblical and Reformed fidelity that is growing stronger, not weaker.

In this, the patient, long-suffering and gracious attitude exhibited by our African American fathers and brothers set the example we all should follow.  For me, the highlight of this year's assembly took place in listening to one speech made during the Overtures Committee.  It was given by an African American pastor who I have counted as a friend from the year of my conversion twenty-five years ago.  He stated how frustrated he had been for so long about racial reconciliation in our denomination.  For years, he had tried to talk about the subject but finally gave up in frustration.  But he kept serving and praying.  He believed in the Reformed theology for which the PCA remains the brightest beacon in the evangelical world.  He wanted to express his thanksgiving to God and his astonished joy over the answer to his prayers and the progress he now has experienced.

Likewise, I departed from the PCA's General Assembly with concerns and frustrations, as usual.  But I am grateful to the Lord to serve in a denomination that continues to occupy its vital spiritual real estate at the crossroads of evangelicalism and Calvinism. I agreed with the fraternal delegate from the OPC, who commented that what America is to worldwide Christianity, the PCA is to the Reformed world. Thus I believe that the broader church needs a strong PCA. Moreover, an encroaching and even menacing secularism calls us to make every faithful effort to stay together and work out our remaining differences. Let us therefore commit anew to engagement, prayer, and reformation, seeking by God's grace to move forward together in the months and years to come.

Last year at the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) 2015 General Assembly, a personal resolution on racial reconciliation was submitted. Drs. Sean Michael Lucas and Ligon Duncan provided the denomination with an opportunity to confess and forsake the sins committed during the Civil Rights era. This resolution was narrow in its scope focusing particularly on the sins committed against African Americans. As the resolution moved from the overtures committee to the floor, debate ensued. "Are we culpable for the sins of our forefathers?" "How can we confess sins when our denomination hadn't officially began?" Commissioners asked sincere questions. In God's providence, it wasn't quite time for a U-turn. It wasn't quite time, as a denomination, to acknowledge the events mentioned in the resolution, confess, and turn from them. The commissioners voted to re-consider the matter for an additional year and send the personal resolution to the presbyteries. What was the result?

During that time of re-consideration, many churches pursued the issues presented in the resolution. Some hosted presbytery-wide events. Others held books discussions (see here, here, and here). Chat rooms were created, phone conversations held, and prayer abounded. Twelve months later, God granted the PCA another opportunity to make a U-turn. Over 40 overtures were submitted, responding to Drs. Lucas and Duncan's original personal resolution. Many were duplicates of the overture from the Missouri Presbytery. Others responded differently. Although there was a variety of opinions on the topic of covenantal, or corporate, repentance during the Civil Rights era, the assembly voted 861-123-23 to approve overture 43 on racial reconciliation. 2016 was an historic year for my denomination--yes, my denomination--to make a U-turn. We acknowledged our need to "recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations."

I am excited about this U-turn and I hope it bears much fruit. That does not mean that commissioners and those in our congregations are without questions. I hope, during the next twelve months, the committee on race, which was approved by our denomination (see overture 45), will help us continue to work through our questions and put feet to our prayers. As they craft practical steps to assist progress in this area, people will undoubtedly continue voicing their questions and concerns. One series of concerns came most recently from The Reverend Dr. Terry Johnson.

In his article, he shared his thoughts under four headings: "Missional theology," "Sabbath," "Racial reconciliation," and "Women in ministry." While his article focused on the decisions of the General Assembly as a whole, I want to focus briefly on some of his comments regarding racial reconciliation. Before providing more thoughts, however, it must be noted that my comments are not ad hominem. I respect Rev. Dr. Terry Johnson. I have consulted his contributions on Lord's Day worship, and I will continue. Nevertheless, I write as one who was on the overtures committee that sent overture 43 to the floor of the PCA General Assembly. I was involved in the debate regarding the refinement of the language of the overture. I observed the men wrestling with how to best present a biblical statement that accurately reflects the will of God and the good of neighbor. It was more glorious than initially envisioned. I didn't know what to expect on this year's overtures committee, but I left the committee more encouraged about our denomination, not simply because of the overture but also because I witnessed men humbly and lovingly agree and disagree on the various elements regarding corporate solidarity and confession.

When overture 43 arrived to the floor, commissioners continued to share their thoughts. One commissioner expressed his desire to recommit the overture. He believed the language could be more finely tuned. Dr. Johnson highlighted this. Johnson further noted the racial dynamics in the commissioner's marriage. Johnson wrote, "a commissioner in a multiracial marriage who, as an overseas missionary, regularly travels all through the PCA raising support...insisted that his family has never encountered any racial bigotry; rather, they have experienced love, kindness, and support." It seems Johnson mentioned the racial dynamics of this man's marriage to support his underlying thought that the PCA is not the PCUS. In other words, we've progressed, as signified by this commissioner's wife's experience and, as Johnson noted, the overture's committee chair and the assembly's guest preacher. Both the chairman and the preacher were African American. Johnson rightly observed, "These would be scenes unimaginable in the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1960's."

While I'm grateful that the commissioner's bride apparently has not experienced racial tension and been sinned against, that is a far cry from most of the minorities with whom I've spoken in the PCA. Shall I provide examples? In an attempt not to diminish the monumental overture passed, I will refrain. Nevertheless, that commissioner's wife's experiences do not represent the whole.

In the larger picture, I'm reminded that none of us are color-blind. While some attempt to embrace a Moynihanian view of colorblindness, we cannot avoid the obvious. I see you. You see me. My hope is that we move beyond the guilt associated with race and ethnicity and transition into a world of celebration. God has fearfully and wonderfully made us with our differences. Instead of suppressing those differences, we should move to a state inquiry and curiosity. Let our differences move us together instead of further apart that we might see and experience a montage within Christ's Church on this side of the consummation.

According to Johnson, the ethos of one portion of the overture was misdirected. He believes it presents a "nothing has changed attitude." Interestingly, no one, to my knowledge, on the overtures committee affirmed that suggestion. No one concluded that the PCA has not progressed since our emergence from the PCUS. How could that sentiment, therefore, if it was present, escape the vision of over 80 commissioners? It did not, because that was not the thrust within the newly edited overture. Secondly, the PCA's tertiary standards make it clear that the overtures committee is only able to amend the "resolved" statements. (We provided six). I'm unaware if Johnson, in his post, was referring to the "whereas" or "resolved" statements of the overture when he noted that it seems we've confessed "nothing changed." Either way, 861 commissioners suggested otherwise.

Dr. Johnson and I agree in many areas. We both believe this overture was "long overdue." We both believe it is sin that churches "participated in the dehumanizing practice of including and excluding, accepting and rejecting, condemning and absolving on the basis of race alone." Our disagreements, at least as presented in his article, lie in the actual versus implied intent of the overture.

For the previous twelve months, Christians have wrestled with whether or not it is time for a U-turn. Is this the will of the Lord or not? Should we corporately confess our sins for the glory of God and because it is "good for the souls of transgressors and is healing for the souls of victims and society"? We did! We will continue. I pray our triune God is glorified as we move toward a unity--not uniformity--previously unknown.