Observations from my first PCA General Assembly

Last week (June 17-20) the 42nd annual General Assembly of the PCA was held in Houston, TX. Being a rather newly minted Teaching Elder in the PCA, this was my first General Assembly. For the most part I was encouraged.

Here are a few of my observations:

1. It was great to meet and spend time with brothers who love Christ and His Church.

2. I am grateful for the Book of Church Order (BCO).
If you have never attended a meeting of Presbyterians you are missing out on a unique experience. I now understand some of the Presbyterian jokes I have heard for years. I used to wonder why it was Presbyterians rather than Baptists who were teased about forming endless committees. Now I know.

Don't misunderstand. I am grateful for this. The Book of Church Order and all the complexities of proper parliamentary procedure are blessings to the church. We are sinners after all and need the protection of clear boundaries. The BCO and all its attending procedures guards the churches, although imperfectly.

The procedures and polity proscribed in the BCO are an acknowledgement that God cares about how his church is governed. It also acknowledges the frailty of human nature. So, I am sure we will continue to chuckle at our persnickety ways but it is better than the alternatives.

Thanks to Bryan Chapell for doing an excellent job as Moderator. I would never want that job.

3. The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) is a good thing.

4. We must never forget our history.
If you have not read The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian I would encourage you to do so. I would not say that history repeats itself. However, people do tend to make the same mistakes.

I am grateful that the General Assembly overwhelmingly affirmed the Study Committee on Insider Movements. I very much appreciated Dr. David Garner's clear apologetic for the Committee's report over against the Minority Report. What this means is that, for now anyway, the PCA is affirming what I certainly believe is the biblical approach to doing missions.

5. Stated positions must periodically be restated.
"We've said it already so we don't need to say it again," simply does not work.

Statements of faith and doctrinal affirmations must be restated at various times for various reasons. Our memories are short. Our resolve is often weak. For instance, the PCA has clearly and consistently ruled that theistic evolution is inconsistent with our system of doctrine. And yet there are TE's in the PCA who hold to this troubling theory of human origins which ultimately undermines the entire biblical metanarrative and the gospel itself (If you don't believe me, just ask Peter Enns). At the same time there are those who object to the General Assembly making any further overtures reaffirming this position on the grounds that the PCA has already stated its position. Exactly! So why is it that there are elders who nevertheless hold to this errant philosophy? I suppose we could go straight to filing charges but shouldn't we first seek to call any erring brothers back to faithfulness to our standards? Unfortunately Overture 32 was answered in the negative.

Statements on moral and ethical issues must also be either adjusted by adding more clarifying language or restated based upon contemporary challenges. For instance, it is becoming more costly for Christians to publicly call for 1) the protection of life in the womb and 2) biblical sexual ethics (particularly homosexuality). The PCA, like all churches committed to biblical fidelity, will need to communicate the truth concerning these issues with increasing frequency and clarity (and I say this as one who leans 2K).  I am happy that the Minority Report on Overture 43 was passed. It states:
Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage; and

Be it further resolved that the General Assembly pause and offer prayer to the Lord on behalf of such ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians.

For those who fear that clarity on abortion and homosexuality will harm our outreach to homosexuals and others let us be reminded that the message of the cross is far more offensive than anything else we will preach. Those who are offended by proclamation of biblical sexual ethics will most certainly be offended by the message of the cross. If we seek to quiet our denomination's stand on such issues as abortion and homosexuality what about that most offensive doctrine that all those who do not believe in Christ will go to hell? Should we not preach against materialism lest we offend the materialist? 

I am concerned for those in our churches (particularly our young people) who are tempted to reject clear biblical teaching on these currently "hot" issues because of pressure at school, work, social circles, etc. Their church needs to continue to encourage and equip them to meet these contemporary challenges with a robust and gracious answer.

6. A beautiful orthodoxy requires, you know, orthodoxy.

7. Some measure of reform is necessary to avoid another Leithart debacle.
I want to tread lightly here because I am new to the PCA. However, when a presbytery decides not to discipline Teaching Elders whose views on such vital doctrines as justification and the sacraments run completely foul of the Westminster Standards then the denomination ought to have a more dependable mechanism upon which to rely. I am not calling for the demolition of Presbyterianism. Nor am I desirous of an unimpeachable central authority. Quite the opposite. I love Presbyterianism. My desire is that the PCA will still be around and recognizable when my children are my age.

8. There was an irenic spirit throughout.
There were disagreements. Some were rather deep. But throughout the debate I witnessed a consistent show of respect between the brothers. Part of this spirit is due to the fact that, so far, we are not disagreeing over issues that strike directly at the heart of our system of doctrine. If that day comes (and it almost certainly will) I trust that we will not allow politeness to dissuade us from defending the truth.

9. Preach Christ.
I deeply appreciated the sermon from Derek Thomas on Wednesday evening. He did the one thing a preacher must do. He preached Christ gloriously.

By God's grace, may the PCA never cease preaching Christ. May we continue to uphold those doctrinal standards that serve as protection from the spiritual violence of error. May we be faithful when faithfulness is costly. May we remember that warm sentiments do not have the power to bind our hearts together. For that sort of unity we must have the truth.

Recommended Reading:
Westminster Confession of Faith 
On Being Presbyterian by Sean Michael Lucas 
Seeking a Better Country by Hart & Muether
The Presbyterian Controversy by Bradley Longfield