As I logged into my blog to write this update, I realized my last post was from back in April. My apologies! I know I have had several new subscribers to the blog and no new content. All I can say is I hope to do better, but life has been a whirlwind as of late.
The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is officially concluded, and early at that, so as I have an entire day in the airport waiting for my flight home, I thought I’d give you an update on the events of GA. In a nutshell I’ll say this: This General Assembly is why I joined the PCA! The worship was God-centered, the preaching Biblical, informative, Spirit-filled, and convicting, the deliberation passionate yet collegial, and the results were encouraging. My first two experiences at General Assembly left me frustrated and dismayed, but this year there seemed to be a different attitude among the commissioners, and I believe God was glorified in the work of His church.
The greatest concern of this Assembly was the very low turn out of Ruling Elders. In a congregation that was established with the understanding of a plurality of elders, a shared authority of Ruling and Teaching Elders, there is not a staggering disparity in the Assembly. There were 1,400 commissioners this year, but only 300 were Ruling Elders. We need to pray and work for a way to include more Ruling Elder in the Assembly in coming years.
The biggest and most profound outcome of the Assembly is the decision to give a portion of the Directory of Worship’s instruction on Marriage full constitutional status. In case you are unfamiliar with the government of the PCA, our Book of Church Order includes a Directory of Worship, that is given as an “approved guide” but without the force of law (except for the chapters on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Leading up to the Assembly, there were several overtures to give the chapter on marriage full constitutional authority. Their reasoning was, among other items, 1) in a culture that is currently redefining marriage, the church needs a clear, constitutional definition of marriage, and 2) giving constitutional status to the chapter on marriage would provide clarity and protection for our military chaplains.
As is our procedure with all overtures, these overtures were sent to the Overtures Committee who for review and recommendations to the Assembly. Surprisingly, the committee recommended that the Assembly answer in the negative, essentially denying the changes. Now please understand, this would not have meant that the PCA was changing it’s position on marriage, only that the chapter on marriage would not be given full constitutional authority. Again, there were a variety of reasons why they recommended answering in the negative, most having to do with the finer details in procedures and records of marriage in the chapter, none having to do with the actual definition of marriage.
When the Committee presented their report and recommendation to the Assembly, there was also a minority report, that sought to refine the original overtures. What came out on the floor, then, was the reality that there was a third way. The Assembly recommitted the overture to the committee, who then met and came back with the following recommended overture:
“Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24, 25; Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.”
This paragraph was approved by the Assembly and given full constitutional status. The vote was an overwhelming 764-12. The next step will be for all of the Presbyteries to vote on this overture, and if it passes a supermajority of Presbyteries, it will be voted upon again at the next Assembly. This is really good news!
In other business, there were several overtures that sought to give organizations in the PCA, such as RidgeHaven, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary and others, the ability to open a minority of seats on their boards of directors to unordained men and women. Currently, those boards are comprised of Teaching and Ruling Elders or Deacons of the Church, and are seen as extensions of the Church in ministry. These overtures were an avenue to allowing women to serve in official capacities on the Boards. While it was made clear that there are many ways that women give advice and counsel to these boards, the church maintains that these ministries are extensions of the Church, and as such, under the leadership of ordained officers of the Church. The committee recommended the overtures be answer in the negative, and the Assembly agreed.
The other major discussion on the floor of the Assembly had to do with the review of Presbytery records, particularly one Presbytery that had examined a minister, heard his differences with the Westminster Standards, ruled that his differences did not “strike to the heart of the religion,” but then ruled that, while he could hold his views, he was not allowed to teach them. While I cannot say that I understand the full ramifications of the action or discussion, I did find it concerning that the Assembly would seek to make a judicial ruling on an action of a Presbytery without any process. In the end, the Committee of Review received their minutes with an exception on this matter, which requires the Presbytery to give a response explaining their decision.
Overall, it was a very encouraging week in Atlanta. New friendships were formed, and old ones renewed. I was particularly moved by the worship service on Thursday evening and the preaching of Joe Novenson, I’ll be ordering a copy for those who are interested in checking out and listening to it. I thank you for your prayers, especially those of my congregation who have graciously provided me the opportunity to attend and be a part of such a great experience in the Church.
Pray for a safe flight home!
Grace and Peace