I’m just an ordinary PCA pastor (not to be confused with Erik Raymond, The Ordinary Pastor, who is not in the PCA). I don’t pastor a big church. Or even a medium sized church. I haven’t published any books (this is part of God’s providence to humble me). I am fairly anonymous in the PCA.
While I was in the ARP, I was not. It is a smaller denomination, and in my youthful exuberance (aka pride) I thought I had something to say about nearly everything. I was a chairman of a Presbytery committee, and therefore on the denominational board. There was an appearance of influence. At times I probably thought I had to save the denomination from “those guys”.
I miss the ARP and my many friends there who put up with me. There is much about the PCA I appreciate and enjoy, including the many friends who put up with me. I am a tiny fish in a lake now. There is much that goes on that I am not aware of here in the desert. But some things get through way out here on the periphery of the PCA. The news of the National Partnership was just such a thing. And so was the backlash, or push back.
I am concerned about confidential groups that seek to guide or alter the course of the denomination thru confidential coordinated work on committees. This seems to be an unfortunate extension of some of the ways the PCA was started. Conservative men formed organizations that engaged in theological discourse to gain access to the minds of young men in ministry. There were discussions about how to work through the church courts toward revitalization and return the PC (US) to his theological roots. But I never got the sense they were confidential. And this time they are more left of center. I’m not sure, it is cloaked in confidentiality.
But on the other side, there are the conservatives who represent the final way in which the PCA was formed. They talk about when it is time to leave– as if they are in a bad marriage and are looking for an excuse to leave without getting in trouble with the Session. Except they aren’t just thinking about it, they are talking about it in front of the spouse they hope to leave. That certainly builds a sense of commitment, trust and love.
In between these groups are the ordinary guys in the PCA- guys like me. Who am I? Theologically I am typically quite conservative. I’m a 6 day creationist, for instance. I count myself as one of the men greatly influenced by Tim Keller. He helped me to preach in a more consistently redemptive-historical, gospel-centered way. He also preaches that gospel to me on a regular basis. But I don’t follow him everywhere. I disagree with his position on creation and ambiguity on the extent of evolution. For a presuppositionalist, he doesn’t seem to be examining the presuppositions of evolution. We all have our blips and blind spots. I sure do.
I am also greatly indebted to R.C. Sproul and his ministry. He led me to Luther, Calvin and Edwards. He led me to RTS Orlando. I was not a Presbyterian, nor a paedobaptist nor covenantal at the time. I was a clueless Calvinistic Baptist who had recently rejected dispensationalism.
I am similarly indebted to Sinclair Ferguson who displays godly character as he communicates solid, heart-moving, intellectually deep theology. And John Frame has helped me learn even more how to think, how to process information balancing the normative, circumstantial and existential in my ministry. This is why I can appear very right of center to some, but far less so to others. It depends on how I think my theological convictions are to be applied in my context.
So, you can begin to see why all this push and shove makes no sense to me. My relationships aren’t based on toeing theological lines. I have friends who disagree with me (though I worry about some of them, and they probably worry about me).
I do not share the words of Rodney King with these factions in the PCA. I don’t say “Let’s all just get along.” What I want to say is the words of Paul to the Corinthians- “Don’t say ‘I don’t need you’.” The Body of Christ is not monolithic. The PCA shouldn’t be either. That is because we seek to bring the gospel to a wide variety of people. There are 5 PCA churches in the city I serve. 4 of them are pretty close geographically. But they are not interchangeable. How they do ministry is different. They reach different people. At times the relationships between the churches have been strained (and in some ways still are). But all of us are necessary to reach all the people we reach.
The various groups in the PCA not only reach different people with the gospel, they hold one another accountable if we let them. The right keeps the left from going too far left and the left keeps the right from going too far right. Those of us in the middle need both groups. Historically, when the conservatives leave a denomination that denomination’s leftward progress speeds up greatly. The check and balance disappeared. The ARP, on the other hand, returned from the brink because some conservatives stayed even though things didn’t seem to be going “their way”.
Do things have to go “our way”? Do we have to act like 6-year olds who pick up there toys and go home just because a vote didn’t go their way? Are we that immature? We still need to learn what it means to bear with one another, in our immaturity. Paul would tell us, like the Ephesians, that we have not arrived. Our theological disagreements are proof of that. So continue to speak the truth together in love (!) so that we can grow toward maturity.
We are also forgetting our ecclesiology, as well as our history. One element that contributed greatly to the downward trajectory of the RCA, CRC, PC (US) and PC (USA) among others is the lack of church discipline for those who denied fundamentals of the faith. I am not asking for all out ecclesiastical warfare. Not all lines are equally important. For instance, with regard to creation the PCA identified acceptable beliefs. Men who move beyond those boundaries should be admonished, instructed and corrected by their brothers. And if they refuse to return to within the limits of orthodoxy they should be removed. Yes, the process doesn’t work perfectly. But too often we don’t even work the process but resort to confidential groups, attack blogs, pity parties and the like.
Don’t curse the tensions in the PCA. Curse what we can sinfully allow the tensions to do to the PCA! Those who differ with you theologically are your brothers. Treat them as such instead of enemies. Show charity to one another instead of seeing “them” in the worst possible light. Make sure your non-negotiables are biblical non-negotiables and not just your particular applications of normative truth or your preferences. Brothers, we need each other so we don’t fall off the road into either ditch.