A Troubling Turn: PCA General Assembly 2016

By and large I have stayed out of the politics of the General Assembly (GA) for the past 34 years. Because I pastor at an independent Presbyterian church, I have not been motivated to educate myself--in a significant way--about the nuances of the BCO (Book of Church Order). If I'm honest, I have to admit that there is much that I do not understand about the RAO (Rules of Assembly Operation). Additionally, I have not followed the implications of the SJC (Standing Judicial Commission) rulings. I have only taken an active part in GA when matters of worship have come to the fore, such as development of the Trinity Psalter and the debate over intinction. I have understood enough to be annoyed over a-theological, a-historical reasoning so often employed by the progressive wing of the PCA. Yet typically I've not been adequately informed to enter into the debates.This year we had three conventional, par-for-the- course General Assembly decisions that included problematic elements. I'll describe them briefly. However, we also had one that, in my opinion, included aspects that were nothing less than ominous. I wish to elaborate on that in more detail.

Missional theology
Covenant Seminary changed the name of its Systematic Theology courses, the core of a seminary's curriculum, to "Missional Theology." Missional is a fashionable term of recent coinage. This, of itself, is enough to raise suspicions. Systematic theology is where the entire curriculum is supposed to be integrated: biblical theology, Old Testament, New Testament, church history all lend their insights. I'll never forget Roger Nicole, at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, responding to a proposed revision of the curriculum which would reduce the theological core. Nicole, of even temper; Nicole, who never got angry; Nicole, who never raised his voice; Nicole of cheerful disposition; Nicole turned red with anger and declared that the history of theological education showed that the slide towards liberalism always began with a reduction of the theological core in favor of what inevitably we called "practical" courses. Do our seminary administrators, our permanent committee, or our committee of commissioners know this history? The additional tasks assigned to Systematics, implied by the new title "Missional," inevitably will dilute commitment to core dogmatics.

Review of presbytery minutes revealed a man had been ordained who did not believe the Westminster Confession of Faith's teaching on the Sabbath. He promised not to teach his views or contradict the Confession's. This was deemed adequate and he was ordained. Is it? A promise not to contradict is not a promise to be an advocate, or to champion the confessional view. He could never "call the Sabbath a delight," as does Isaiah (ch. 58), and urge his congregations' compliance in light of both the command itself and the benefits. This I have classified as a mere run-of-the-mill disturbance--even though it shows what we all know, that a substantial percentage of the denomination's ordained officers are in violation of their ordination vows. They may claim "Calvin's view," though Richard Gaffin's Calvin and the Sabbath would likely rebut their claim. Or they may plead a "continental view," though Hughes Old insists that what they describe as "the continental view" is merely the continental Roman Catholic view. Regardless, what our officers subscribe to is not Calvin's or the "continental" Reformed view, but Westminster's, and it is Westminster's that apparently they no longer believe.

Racial reconciliation
We acknowledged our sin of racism during the Civil Rights Era, repenting of the sin of the Southern Presbyterian Church, which as an institution ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­defended Jim Crow and racially segregated churches. This, it seems to me, is a good thing--even long overdue by those individuals, institutions, and churches that participated in the dehumanizing practice of including and excluding, accepting and rejecting, condemning and absolving on the basis of race alone. Repentance is good for the souls of transgressors and is healing for the souls of victims and society. However, the approved statement implied that all the same racist policies, attitudes and actions persist in the PCA to this day--as though no progress on race relations has been made. This was said while a dear African-American brother stood at the lectern and presented the proposed statement to the denomination; and, the evening following its approval, another dear African-American brother was the featured speaker. These would be scenes unimaginable in the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1960's. The "nothing has changed" attitude is the perspective of the racial grievance industry, rather than that of Christian charity. Thankfully, it was rebutted by a commissioner in a multiracial marriage who, as an overseas missionary, regularly travels all through the PCA raising support. He insisted that his family has never encountered any racial bigotry; rather, they have experienced love, kindness, and support. To imply otherwise, as this statement does, is to equate yesterday with today and to trivialize both the sins of the oppressors of a generation ago and the suffering of their victims.

Women in Ministry
While I was bothered by those things mentioned above, what I deemed to be ominous was the approval of a study committee on women's issues that includes, in its scope, a reevaluation of ordination. This is more than disturbing. This threatens the future of the PCA, a denomination born in part in opposition to the ordination of women. The outlook of the progressive wing of the PCA was revealed in debate. One individual said, "The ladies at your church will love you for voting in favor of this." Another said, "I guarantee our women are listening very carefully to what we are saying right now." Are these men assuming that all PCA women disagree with the denomination's position on women's ordination? That women are a monolithic block with uniform opinions and voting patterns? Mind you, this was said by those who present themselves as the champions of women. I blush for the lack of self-awareness. Clearly there is ordained leadership that believes that the PCA must bend with the times, beginning with ordaining of women as deaconesses, based, it seems, on the perception that this is what all women want. 
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