Further discussion on General Assembly

The last couple of weeks there have been a number of articles written on various aspects of the events at General Assembly. For a basic overview of events, please see this article at the Aquila Report or this one by Stated Clerk Roy Taylor.

No Court of Appeals for the PCA?
The PCA GA has no mechanism in place for dealing with SJC decisions after they have been announced

These overtures were doomed from the beginning, although they do draw attention to the presence of major dissatisfaction within the PCA with how the case was handled. Many would like for this case to be retried for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the prosecutor, by his own admission, was persuaded of the truth claims of the Roman Catholic Church while trying this case.

Post-Mortem on the 41st General Assembly of the PCA

I was also heartened by the fact that the Committee of Commissioners for the Interchurch Relations Committee (ICR) pressed the issue regarding membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The NAE is a seriously flawed organization. The ICR Permanent Committee will have to be more diligent in the coming year in reporting on what the NAE does. Perhaps when all those actions are put together in list form, it will become apparent to the PCA that we as a denomination have no business being part of that association.

The Insider Movement and the Word-Concept Fallacy
The love of God in Christ is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Why tell a Muslim something that we are just going to have to retract later on? … I do not believe it is helpful to start out by saying something that is grossly misleading at best, and heretical at worst. It is far better to tell them of the love of Jesus Christ, and to keep on directing them there. The love of God and the grace that Christianity offers in the Gospel is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Action on the PCA Insider Movement Report: Mutually Assured Destruction
An assessment of the PCA General Assembly’s consideration of the Insider Movement report

It is hard to see how the minority report can change unless it becomes even more indistinct and misleading. Perhaps it can apply more camouflage to hide the fact that it thinks that Muslims can remain Muslims and not leave the mosque. No amount of assurance that syncretism is avoided or that doctrinal standards required by the Bible are maintained can alter the fact that, at the end of the day, Islam remains but Christianity is not needed.

Debate Squashing at General Assembly– a PCUS Déjà Vu?
It looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics.

Wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

“What’s Happening to the PCA?”
Is the PCA on a similar path as the PCUSA?

And consider also the continuing discussion over women deacons. And what after that? The example of so many churches that have “gone liberal” charts a clear path. Women elders, then women teaching elders, then non-practicing homosexuals, then practicing homosexuals, then John Shelby Spong.

The PCA General Assembly, Cul De Sacs, and False Dilemmas
Certain facets of the PCA’s polity can create procedural cul de sacs that are making issues impossible to resolve

I also came away convinced we need to make some allowances at GA for our family system of suspicion. We can regret that all we want but it seems pointless to ignore it. One way is to consider a policy the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted. At their annual meetings the SBC use a trained, certified parliamentarian from outside their denomination to ensure full confidence in rulings from the chair.

My Thoughts on the 2013 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
What struck me as unique about this GA was the party spirit of those in control of things

There was little mood for unity evidenced by anybody at this GA. The mood was set by the opening sermon by the outgoing moderator, Mike Ross. It was a provocative sermon on the sin of conservatism. Rev. Ross has always been one of those whose style from the pulpit is confrontational; in any other context the sermon theme might be considered a healthy challenge to self examination. But sermons are not preached in a vacuum. Considering the obvious anxiety many conservatives had over the direction of the PCA coming into this year’s GA and the strained relationship the theme had to the text, it could not help but be heard as a direct attack. And it was.

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly
The principle of the use of unjust weights destroys trust in the church as it does in an economic system

Taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church.

The PCA Insider Movement Report: Times Are Changing, and Staying Exactly the Same
What most of them didn’t know at that small, somewhat shocking moment, is that this is just the beginning of a much larger seismic event that will shape the character and course of the PCA for a generation.

The recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America featured a brief, but heated argument about the seemingly inconsequential … issue of foreign missions. Particularly, whether to receive and approve the Majority Report of the Committee on Insider Movements or whether to receive, as well, the Minority Report, written by a single committee member. Having just been subjected to incredibly dull debates over coin-flips for committee appointments, I understand why the commissioners would have been asleep.

When Denominations Disappoint: Setting Priorities
The answer to denominational disappointment is to begin setting one’s house in order

There are other priorities that must be set too. Confession trumps church order. The latter is nothing but a tool to allow the church to do its proper work before the Lord. If a church order becomes so cumbersome and complex as to require canon lawyers, then we have lost a major Reformation battle. Remember, the Reformation inherited a highly complex canon law (the medieval Book of Church Order, if you will). Calvin addressed the problem of the authority of these documents in Institutes 4.10 in several sections (e.g., 1–5). He argued for the priority of the Word over church order.

Paedocommunion, Leithart and Meyers, SJC nominations, Insider Movement, Overtures, and a report on Child Abuse

The report from the Review of Presbytery Records committee began on Wednesday. There was debate over Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s allowing paedocommunion as an exception. The minority report was not adopted, and unlike the previous two years, Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s reasons for granting the exception in question were accepted by the General Assembly.

Central Florida Presbytery also had approved a candidate’s views on paedocommunion as an allowable exception. The action of the GA was to adopt the minority report and ask the Presbytery for an explanation regarding the reasons for granted the exception. The difference between this GA action and the one regarding Pacific Northwest Presbytery was due to the fact that this was the first time that RPR cited Central Florida regarding this action recorded in their minutes.  The ruling on Pacific Northwest was based on their response to concerns raised by recent assemblies.

The Assembly discussed a part of the report of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) regarding what it was to report to the General Assembly on actions of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Last year’s GA had instructed the committee to report these actions to the GA. However, IRC construed the directive of the 40th General Assembly more narrowly than was intended. The Committee of Commissioners took exception to the more narrow interpretation presented by IRC and moved the original directive, “That the General Assembly further direct the permanent committee of Interchurch Relations to be alert for and report to the General Assembly any action or position taken of the NAE,” and the GA adopted this language.

The study committee on the Insider Movement presented Part 2 of its report; Part 1 was presented at last year’s GA. Part 1 dealt with principles for biblical interpretation and on divine familial names, and the second part was on the theology, gospel missions, and Insider Movements. There was also a minority report written by one member of the Ad Interim Committee. The majority report made three recommendations:

  1. That “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” serve as a Partial Report (Part Two of Two Parts).
  2. That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.
  3. That the 41st General Assembly dismiss the ad interim Study Committee on Insider Movements with thanks.

The Minority report added the following recommendation: “That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study the paper in the Minority Report entitled “Addressing Realities on the Ground” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.” The Assembly passed the recommendation of the minority report and appended this report to the Majority Report.

Following this, there was a prolonged discussion of the meaning of one sentence in the paper the Minority Report that appeared to say that the God of the Bible and of Islam were the same:

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ (Colossians 1:15).

The Assembly resolved this by voting to recommit the whole report to the Ad Interim Committee to give it an opportunity to clarify language and concepts in the report.

The Nominating Committee gave its report. After debate on the order in which to vote on the nominations, the Assembly voted for the customary order, to vote on the TE side of the ballot first. The Assembly then elected by omnibus all nominees who were unopposed. TE Fred Greco was re-elected to the SJC Class of 2017. TE Grover Gunn was elected to fill an unexpired term. TE Dominic Aquila lost re-election to TE Ray Cannata to the SJC Class of 2017, and RE EJ Nusbaum was also elected to the same class.

The Overtures Committee (OC) recommended that the moderator rule both Overture 19 and Overture 23, out of order because Standing Judicial Commission rulings are final. The Moderator ruled as recommended and was sustained. Overture 19 requested the GA to remand the complaint arising from Pacific Northwest Presbytery alleging that it erred in the conduct and its judgments in the trial of TE Peter Leithart. Overture 23 requested that the GA find the complaint in order arising from Missouri Presbytery on the conduct and judgments in the trial of TE Jeffrey Meyers and direct the SJC to adjudicate the case. The Assembly approved the recommendations of the OC on the remaining Overtures. The OC recommendations are available here.

Overtures 20, 21, and 22 were referred to the Standing Judicial Commission. These overtures all requested that the General Assembly assume original jurisdiction over TE Peter Leithart per Book of Church Order 34-1. The SJC will consider this request at its October 2013 meeting.

As a part of the Mission to the World (MTW) Committee report, TE Paul Koostra, MTW Coordinator, reported that a committee has been set up to search for a new MTW Coordinator. He said that the process could take up to eighteen months.

Earlier in the week, TE Mike Sloan presented a resolution on Child Abuse and the appropriate response and action that pastors and churches should take. The resolution was committed to the Overtures Committee to consider during the Assembly and report back. The final wording of the resolution as presented to the Assembly was changed substantially from the original resolution, particularly as related to the need for mandatory reporting by churches and pastors to the civil authorities. The Assembly voted to recommit the resolution to committee.

The General Assembly adjourned on Thursday late evening, June 20. It was announced that the 42nd PCA General Assembly will be held in Houston, Texas, June 17-20, 2014

Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research to give a seminar today

The 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America begins today in Greenville, South Carolina. Already several of the committees have been meeting. The assembly officially opens tonight with a worship service and then the election of the moderator. Last year’s moderator, Dr. Mike Ross will speak tonight at the worship service.

There are also a number of seminars starting today.

Last year, Dr. Gregg Davidson gave a seminar on the age of the earth from an old earth perspective:

Dr. Davidson explained that his purpose in the seminar was to equip the pastors and elders so that they can better minister to their congregations. According to Dr. Davidson, there are many in the church who are taught that the evidence for an old earth is weak and that to be faithful to Christ one must hold to a young earth. This can become a stumbling block to the faith for many, especially young believers, who grow up and are then challenged when they discover that the evidence for an old earth is very strong. The evidence that Dr. Davidson presented in the seminar is designed to help prevent this potential crisis of faith.

This year, Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research, will give a seminar on Astronomy and creation from a young earth perspective:

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

I’m sure Dr. Lisle’s seminar will be worth attending. I encourage you, if you’re in Greenville, to stop by the ICR booth in the exhibit hall. A full list of the seminars and their descriptions is available here. A printable schedule is available here.

The Grown-up Solution

Yesterday, I posted an article by Pastor Matthew Kingsbury about the PCA’s vote not to make a new statement on the origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Kingsbury wrote that the “grown-ups” in the PCA had prevailed.

Tim Phillips, pastor of an ARP church in Louisville, KY, has written a response to Pastor Kingsbury’s article. The week before the PCA’s General Assembly, the ARP had their annual meeting. At this meeting, they overwhelmingly passed an overture affirming the non-evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Phillips’ church was the one to submit the overture.

In his article in response to Pastor Kingsbury, Pastor Phillips takes issue with the “somewhat offensive” title of “Grown-ups Prevail at the PCA General Assembly. While he agrees with the basic premise that the Westminster Standards “are comprehensive and clear and have full authority,” he believes that the Standards could not anticipate all potential heresies:

However, there is one major deficiency in the Standards: they do not have the ability to travel through time into the future. Thus, various movements and challenges and heresies will arise over time that will seek to undermine what the Standards teach — things the Standards might teach about, but don’t directly address.

He also points out that even with the clarity of the Standards, heresies, such as the Federal Vision, have arisen and have needed to be dealt with:

Yet, as clear as this statement [on justification] is, the errors of Federal Visionism have arisen within the very churches which claim to hold to the Westminster Standards. Therefore, in order to address such concerns, sometimes church courts will make official statements. Sometimes these come through committees, sometimes they are made on the floor of the assembly, sometimes they come through memorials/overtures sent up by the presbyteries. There is nothing unusual about this.

And,

Once again, the Westminster Standards are not a time machine. They were written two centuries before Darwinism and natural selection and 19th century attacks on Scripture. Should they be sufficient to address these issues? Yes, but we all know perfectly well that the history of Presbyterianism is littered with ministers and elders who took took vows to affirm the Standards and yet openly taught against them. To say, “we don’t need statements, we already have the Confession” is almost along the lines of “We don’t need creeds, we have the Bible!” It fails to realize that there are those who might interpret statements differently from others, even if they claim to be biblical and/or confessional. There might be a “baptistic” sentiment here, but I think the pastor is mistaken where it is coming from.

Pastor Phillips also believes that while we should use the judicial processes available to us, pastors need to be careful to protect the sheep:

Sometimes issues arise that require strong statements from Presbyterian bodies. There is nothing childish or baptistic in that approach. God’s people should be guarded by their leaders. If a product is potentially harmful to my child, I expect to see a warning label. It is not exactly comforting for someone to tell me that I first need to wait on a lawsuit to settle the matter.

He gives, as an example, two potential pastoral scenarios that I thought really helped illustrate the issue:

First Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: Well, we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, even though they predate theistic evolution. We tried to have a statement declaring the special creation of Adam passed at the national level of the denomination, but that failed. Now we’ll have to wait to see if anyone teaches theistic evolution and then wait for a judicial case to be decided for there to be anything definitive.

Second Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: I’m glad you asked. Our General Synod recently passed a memorial that affirms the special creation of Adam. As a matter of fact, it was our church that wrote the memorial and our presbytery that sent it along to the General Synod, where it was passed overwhelmingly.

I highly recommend that you read the full article.

Apparently I’m Not Much of a Grown-up

Last week, Matthew Kingsbury, pastor of an OPC church in Denver, CO, wrote about the PCA’s vote not to make an in thesi statement regarding the origins of Adam and Eve. His opinion was that the “grown-ups” had prevailed:

The Westminster Standards cover a great deal of doctrinal ground, and I (for one) think it unlikely a committee-penned statement on, say, justification will be any more clear than the Confession, Larger Catechism, and Shorter Catechism.

Thus, the cockles of my curmudgeonly heart (if, in fact, a curmudgeon can be said to have a heart) were warmed when the 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in American rejected an overture that it make an in thesi declaration against theistic evolution on the ground that Scripture and the Westminster Standards do so with sufficient clarity.

This is important for two reasons: first, the Assembly has taken the very grown-up position that presbyterians need not restate what they’ve already stated, no matter how many people insist it is VERY IMPORTANT that they do so. Let the Baptists issue statements; we’ve subscribed to a confession.

Pastor Kingsbury believes that a declaration like the Rocky Mountain Presbytery overture would not help preserve orthodoxy:

The practical impotence of in thesi declarations is why I think them corrosive to the Church’s well-being. Church officers are free to agree or disagree with them with whatever degree of openness they prefer; disagreement brings with it no automatic sanctions. This creates the impression that the Church’s highest judicatory has spoken in a final way on a matter, and can be freely ignored by any and all of the Church’s members; this simply cannot be healthy for any ecclesiastical body.

Far better, I think, to read our confessional standards and be content with the very grown-up statements they provide.

I guess I’m not much of a grown-up, because I couldn’t disagree more. (Tomorrow, I’ll post a response written by a pastor in the ARP.)

Declaration on Special Creation of Adam and Eve

The Session of Midway Presbyterian (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA met this week and voted to adopt a “Declaration on the Special Creation of Adam and Eve for Session/Presbytery.” The session gave their reason for making a declaration at this time:

Since in our present time there are attempts to redefine the teaching on the miraculous and direct creation of Adam and Eve, which would lead us back to a spirit of slavery instead of urging us to stand in the liberty that Christ brings (Gal. 5:1), we wish to joyfully reaffirm the biblical, historical, and confessional teaching, and also warn about the erroneous nature of this teaching which will be injurious to the peace, purity, and progress of the church—even to the gospel itself (1 Cor. 15:1, 20-22, 45-50).

Here is an excerpt from their declaration:

1. Affirms and preaches that the Scriptures (cf. Genesis 1-3; Romans 5:12-19; and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22) teach that Adam and Eve are as historical individuals as any of us, were immediately created by God through his direct and miraculous intervention, that God formed Adam, the first man, from the dust of the ground, and made Eve directly from Adam without the need of lengthy time nor a naturalistic process to create Adam and Eve in original righteousness and holiness (cf. also the actions of the 28th PCA GA [2000], 184, 200-201).

2. Denies that Genesis 2:7 or other Scriptures teach that Adam and Eve are the products of evolution from lower forms of life or previous species, or that God acted upon a group of humans or hominids from which he set apart the first couple (cf. Mt. 19:4).

They conclude by inviting other sessions or presbyteries to adopt the declaration. I hope that many other sessions and presbyteries will follow Midway’s example. It may seem like a small step, but it is an important one.

You can read the full declaration at the Aquila Report.

PCA General Assembly Votes NOT to Make a Statement on Adam and Eve

Today at the 40th General Assembly of the PCA, the majority of the commissioners voted not to make any statements regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve. Don Clements at The Aquila Report wrote a summary of the day’s actions:

Three Presbyteries had submitted overtures concerned with the topic of Theistic Evolution and the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Overture 10 from Rocky Mountain Presbytery asked that the General Assembly go on record (known as making an ‘in thesi’ statement that would reject all evolutionary views of Adam’s origins. Overture 29 from Savannah River Presbytery asked for a similar statement.

But Overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery asked for something different. They felt that the PCA had clearly stated their position on these topics, most especially in Larger Catechism Question 17, and anyone who wanted to know what the PCA’s position was could simply read the following statement from that answer:

“After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal soul; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall”

A minority of the committee brought to the floor their position defending the adopting of an ‘in thesi’ statement, staying that is was needed since there were a number of people and/or institutions that were claiming to uphold the Westminster Standards (i.e. LCQ 17) yet, at the same time, were claiming that Theistic Evolution or views that Adam and Eve were not truly newly created was within the bounds of understanding of the Standards.

When the votes were taken, the assembly voted by a 60-40% margin to approve the Potomac Overture and not make a statement.

While I appreciate the sentiment of the majority report that the PCA already has statements affirming the historicity of Adam, those who believe that there is not a significant group of theistic evolutionists within the PCA are kidding themselves. It was particularly telling that despite the many assurances by those in favor of the majority report one man spoke to say that he believed the minority report went beyond the Scriptures in what it affirmed about Adam. He said that Genesis 2:7 states that God created Adam from the dust, but not how. He thought there should be more latitude in interpretation there.

That is exactly why we need to address the issue of Adam and evolutionary origins.