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While I was in a Presbytery meeting our denomination “dropped” the study report on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church that is going to be presented at General Assembly this June. I’ve seen some very critical statements about this report. I wonder if we are reading the same report. I am not done reading it, but so far I’ve found it to be edifying. In light of that, let’s look at the first chapter which serves as an introduction.

The report begins by laying out their commitments and affirmations that form the presuppositions of our denomination and this study report.  This includes:

  • Confessional commitment to the complementarity of men and women.
  • The full dignity of men AND women as created in God’s image.
  • The Scriptures teach that eldership is comprised of qualified men (they embrace this “humbly and happily”).
  • Marriage should display mutually-edifying complementarity.
  • Male headship is to be expressed in sacrificial love to his wife.
  • It is expressed when a wife “welcomes her husband’s headship with respect”.

This means they are laying out the boundaries, biblical and confessional, that exist for our denomination and this study. The purpose is not to examine things outside of the boundary markers, or to change the boundary markers. The purpose is to examine questions that lie within these boundaries. Within these boundaries there are some differences of opinions. Another way of saying this (as I’ve said before) is that complementarianism is not a monolithic movement. There are a continuum of views that exist within the bounds of biblical and confessional complementarianism. These are the differences in view. The goal was not to ordain women elders as some have asserted (and have intentionally or unintentionally stirred up fear).

At least half of the adult membership of the church are women. How they can serve, and how we can empower them, are important questions to ask if we actually want to see them serve God to the fullest as God permits.

They note that in BCO 9-7, both men and women may be appointed by the Session to assist the diaconate in their work. There are elders in the PCA who think that the PCA should permit women to be deacons. Some others favor an office of deaconness which supports the diaconate particularly in its ministry to women. Some see this as a position, not a church office. Others have an unordained diaconate so women may be deacons. So, recognizing these big differences in opinion we ought to consider the question more carefully.

“The committee is not recommending any Book of Church Order changes.” page 2, line 44

Historically they note that the PCA was formed during a time in which the women’s rights movement was popular, and many denominations, including the PC (US), were beginning to ordain women to the office of elder (including teaching elders). The PCA affirmed complementarianism then and still does now. However, “members and ministers are asking how to equip, encourage, and utilize women in the church’s ministry in ways that are consistent with our confessional and theological commitments to complementarianism.” This, I think, is a worthwhile project.

I recently saw some of the Overtures that have been made to the upcoming General Assembly. One is Overture 3 from Westminster Presbytery which calls for the dismissal of the study committee. The report responds to this overture recommending that GA answer it in the negative. It deals point by point with the objections (except that it has reported disturbed the peace in Westminster Presbytery which was vague- are they fighting among themselves or just in existential agony because we’re considering how women may serve within the boundaries of our biblical and confessional commitments?).

One idea put forth by the Overture is that it is improper for women to serve on voting committees since this might involve “having authority over men.” I’m confused. Don’t women vote in congregational meetings? While we don’t recognize it as a court, congregational meetings function like a court and decisions are made by vote, like whether or not to call a particular man as teaching elder. Additionally, as the Study Report notes, committees made recommendations that must be voted on by the Assembly. It has no authority, the authority lies with the Assembly to approve or deny the report  and its recommendations.

To summarize: this report is addressing questions within our denominational boundaries, and not trying to make us PC(USA)-lite. This study committee was properly called, and women may serve on such a committee.

May God use this process to further the purity, peace and prosperity of the Church (and churches) through this process.

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This year General Assembly was in Chattanooga, TN. This presented some unique opportunities for the PCA. Chattanooga is where New City Fellowship is, one of the far too few churches that is multi-ethnic. It is also the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL (if you haven’t, WATCH the movie!).

All Presbyterian denominations have struggled with issues of race, particularly southern ones. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Notable Southern Presbyterian theologians tried to justify race-based slavery that was the result of man-stealing (a death sentence sin in the OT and condemned in the NT as well).
  • The Southern Presbyterian church supported the Confederacy in the War Between the States. The Confederacy defended state’s rights, but one of those rights was to own slaves.
  • The Presbyterian Church refused to stand against the Jim Crow laws, and stand with their brothers and sisters of color for their basic human rights.
  • The Presbyterian Church did not protect the lives of defenseless and innocent African-Americans from racists individuals and organizations like the KKK.
  • At least one of our “founding fathers” has taught (at least) proto-kinism which is a false doctrine that rejects the reality of the dividing wall of hostility being torn down in Christ so that the vision of Revelation 4-5 is not just eschatalogically true but intended to be ecclesiastically true today.
  • Many of our churches have tolerated kinism.
  • Many of our churches and private schools were founded to avoid the move toward integration in some churches and in public school districts.

A little over a decade ago, the PCA admitted the sins of our fathers with regard to slavery. But there are other issues that keep African-Americans, who remember the history better than we white people do, out of our churches. It is time for us to address these additional issues.

There were many things I found encouraging about General Assembly. For instance, the 3 worship services were all very different. Prior to Bryan Chapell’s excellent sermon from Psalm 32, the music was very traditional including a choir, organ/piano and strings. The second service was led by the worship team of New City including James Ward and some incredible singers, both black and white, in what was a very different vibe for GA. Then their pastor Kevin Smith delivered a powerful sermon on the 6th commandment tying it in to Southern Presbyterians failure to protect the defenseless and innocent in those dark days we want to forget about. It is only my fourth PCA General Assembly but Kevin is the only African-
American I’ve seen preach so far. (During my years in the ARP I don’t remember any African-Americans preaching to the synod.) In the final worship service, I think the worship team from Lookout Mountain lead us in a southern folk style that was quite interesting. The sermon by Rankin Wilbourne on Union with Christ was very good as well. Unfortunately, during the liturgy there was a line that created some offense by thanking God for the particular founding father who paved the way for kinism.

Bryan Chapell led an assembly-wide panel discussion entitled How to Advance Ethnic Outreach and Ministry in the PCA. We heard from 4 brothers: 1 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American and 1 Caucasian who works among the generational poor. It was a much too short conversation though a good one.

During the seminar times, there were opportunities for us to learn more about this subject. Lance Lewis lead one called Moving Forward: Actively Engaging Issues of Race/Ethnicity from a Biblical Point of View which argued for a proper ecclesiology that expressed the multi-ethnic character of the church. I also sat in on Duke Kwon’s Building a Racially Inclusive Church which was excellent as well. Unfortunately I missed Jemar Tisby’s seminar The Image of God and the Minority Experience. I bought the CD and plan to listen to it soon.

People could avoid these opportunities if they wanted to. But they could not avoid the personal resolution that was put forward by Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas with regard to our sins against our African-American brothers and sisters during the civil rights era.

Initial reports were that the Overtures Commission was quite divided on this issue. Before it returned to the floor they had met with some key members of the African-American Presbyterian Fellowship. The unanimous recommendation was to prepare a much improved version which would also include specific suggestions as to the fruit of repentance. This would allow time for those unaware of the history to learn, particularly from Lucas’ upcoming history of the PCA. There was also a desire for overtures to come thru the lower courts. In many ways they encouraged a year of reflection and repentance by our Sessions and Presbyteries leading up to next year’s GA in Mobile.

On the floor, things got … interesting. Some saw the need to do something NOW. I agreed with that sentiment. We do need a perfected statement with the kind of fruit we are looking to see. But we needed to start now. This discussion was long and heated. Parliamentary procedure once again made like more confusing and frustrating. If you go down the wrong path you can’t go back. There is no room for “repentance” with parliamentary procedure. One of the remaining founders of the PCA stood to speak. While he disavowed racism as a motive for founding the PCA, he confessed sins of omission during the years of the civil rights movement. This was very important.

What did happen after the vote was positive. First, the moderator opened the mics for a season of prayer, focusing on repentance. There were many men on their knees, literally, praying for mercy and for God to work in our midst to bring repentance and fruit in keeping with it. He initially said about 5-6 guys would pray at the mics. I lost track of how many men were able to pray at the mics. Someone (wink, wink) noted that we offended our brothers in our worship that very evening because we don’t listen to them and learn from them.

Then there was a protest of the decision which allowed those who wanted to do something now to register their names up front. There was a very long line of men wanting to register their protest. God is at work to deal with these issues. Hopefully within a generation we will be an integrated denomination filled with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in the pews and positions of power and responsibility.

I asked a friend about the ARP. I am delighted to say that they also have begun a similar process. The Theological and Social Concerns Committee has been tasked with this matter. There was no apparent opposition to this. May the Father heal these denominations for His glory.

Here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas, last year and this year mark significant anniversaries in the Civil Rights movement: 2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Selma-to-Montgomery March; and

Whereas, many of our conservative Presbyterian churches at the time not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement, but actively worked against racial reconciliation in both church and society; and

Whereas, the 30th General Assembly adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that confessed its covenantal, generational, heinous sins connected with unbiblical forms of servitude, but failed to deal with the covenantal, generational, heinous sins committed during the much more recent Civil Rights era (cf. Daniel 9:4-11); and

Whereas, the 32nd General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on “the Gospel and Race” that was produced under the oversight of our Mission to North America committee, but that also failed to acknowledge the lack of solidarity with African Americans which many of our churches displayed during the Civil Rights era; and

Whereas, our denomination’s continued unwillingness to speak truthfully about our failure to seek justice and to love mercy during the Civil Rights era significantly hinders present-day efforts for reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters; and

Whereas, God has once more given our denomination a gracious providential opportunity to show the beauty, grace and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ by showing Christ-like love and compassion towards the greater African American community;

Be it therefore resolved, that the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period; and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly recommit ourselves to the task of truth and reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it finally resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek to further truth and reconciliation for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

TE Sean M. Lucas

TE J. Ligon Duncan III

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Last year CavWife set the wheels in motion. She was envious that I got to spend time with some of our best friends from Florida. With Greenville the site for this year’s GA, she believed she and the kids should travel with me and spend time with some of our friends.

We tried various permutations. But like Jerry to Babu, it was looking like the wheels were just spinning, not going anywhere. I was not excited about the prospect of driving across the country for General Assembly, heading north for vacation and then driving back to the AZ. Not restful at all, and I had a bad back experience in April. Thankfully we found a flight deal that was only slightly more expensive than if we just flew to the Northeast for vacation.

We would fly into Atlanta, rent a van to drive to Greenville and then return to Atlanta to fly into Newark and begin our vacation. Sounds great, right?

The kids couldn’t wait. They wanted to pack about a week ahead of time. We had to keep putting them off. That is always fun.

But the magic day arrived. I had much to do to prepare for that day: liturgy for the entirety of my time away, most of my sermon prep for the week I got back … and so on.

We had an afternoon flight out of town, so we had a good lunch at home before being driven to the airport by a friend. We had a short layover in Denver that concerned me. We had 30 minutes to get from one flight to another with 2 car seats and 4 kids. I was losing sleep over this.

And then our flight out was delayed. And delayed again. This wasn’t good. But we were assured that our flight would be held since it was the last flight out of Denver for Atlanta and 17 of us were making the connection. Okay.

Though we left late, the flight was essentially uneventful. Thankfully our departure gate was not far from our arrival gate in Denver. We even had time to go to the bathroom since that flight was delayed. Soon we were in the air for the relatively short flight to Atlanta.

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I should stop reading blogs. But then I’d have less to say on this blog. Then again, who cares what I say.

Yes, I’m in a cranky mood. There are reasons, but not ones I want to share.

Will we fall for a lie too?

A number of people are of the distinct impression that the PCA should have issued a statement denying theistic evolution, or affirming the reality of Adam and Eve as special creations of God in His image. They believe the only way to confront the increasing popularity of this sub-biblical, and gospel-destroying view point is to issue a statement, hang a sign saying “not welcome”. There are some in the PCA who think this, and some outside the PCA who think this. I’ve even heard of a family that left the PCA because we didn’t make this statement.

As a member of the court who voted in the majority, I guess I take this a little too personally. I am not sure why this bothers me so much. Perhaps it goes back to why I’ve generally been in cranky lately. But there is the implication that either I don’t understand the gravity of the problem or don’t care about the problem. There is somehow the suspicion on the part of some that the PCA is moving closer to apostasy because we didn’t do something.

But we did. It is easy to look at the ruling, but not think of why people ruled. Some critics have stated why some of us voted the way we did- but still aren’t happy.

I get the seriousness of the issue. The issue of evolution was instrumental in my conversion. I am a young earth, 6 day creationist. I know this makes me a small-minded, caveman in the minds of some people. But I recognize that God’s Word is perfect (though our interpretations are anything but), and that science is not perfect. What they say today is not carved in stone because they always come up with new data, new methods of collecting data and new interpretations of data. It is foolish to think that the majority view of science supercedes Scripture. How’s that Ice Age predicted in the 70’s working?

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While I was at General Assembly, See Jesus provided a free copy of A Praying Life discussion guide.  I had been wanting to read the book, and a friend graciously & generously purchased me a copy of A Praying Life by Paul Miller (it’s also available in audio book form).

I still haven’t read the book, but am hoping to use either the book or the PrayerLife interactive Bible Study for our Community Groups.  Since I’m wrapping up some preparation for my seminar on Adoption: The Greatest Adventure, I decided to visit Steve Brown Etc. since I haven’t been there in quite some time.  It’s okay, Steve might forgive me.  For being away for so long, and for coming back.  He recently interviewed Paul about the book and prayer.  It is an interesting discussion.  One of Paul’s best statements was:

“My resistance to prayer is my resistance to grace.”

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Having been in the ARP since 1998, this was my first General Assembly as a member of the PCA.  I had heard many things, but it was good to see things first hand.  That means the good and the bad.  Inevitably, my mind compares and contrasts everything to my experiences in the ARP.

Some of the differences come from the fact that the PCA is much larger than the ARP.  I was not used to holding up a half sheet of card stock to vote (unless the votes needed to be counted).  We would merely use voice unless the vote was close.  There were differences in terminology:  Memorials => overtures, delegates => commissioners.  No big deal there.  But the sheer size of the documents was so much greater.  There is, comparatively, so much more going on.

One of the additions was a review of all the minutes from all the Presbyteries.  We had to vote on some matters relating to them.  That was interesting.  I was also shocked at the length of the report from the Standing Judicial Commission.  I can count on one hand the number of issues that came up in a decade that went to the ARP Synod’s version.  There were pages of appeals and other judicial issues sent up.  It is a very different culture than the ARP.

I miss going to Bonclarken.  I knew my way around.  I knew were to have a good meal (especially a good Tex-Mex with my friends from Presbytery), and where to enjoy a beer and cigar.  Each year the PCA General Assembly moves.  This year it was Nashville.  I had never been to Nashville.  I did not know my hotel was 3 miles from the convention center until the night before I left.  There was a shuttle to and from the airport, but no mention of one to the convention center.  The hotel desk said there wasn’t one.  So, I had already walked the 3 miles once before I discovered the PCA had provided regular shuttles to my hotel.

I was surprised to find that all of the hotels and the convention center charged for internet access.  Now that we’re “hooked” they want $10/day to access the web.  I needed to get my sermon notes back to Tucson.  Thankfully there was a Panera nearby, and I enjoyed a chai latte and bagel while uploading my document and checking out some sports news.

I found the worship far more accessible and edifying than in the ARP.  Part of that is the fact I did not grow up ARP and our church didn’t use Bible Songs (a holdover from the days before the ARP permitted the use of hymns).  Often the worship is filled with songs I do not know.  Since we were in Nashville, we used numerous hymns by Indelible Grace and similar musicians.  I liked that and found it much easier to engage with the worship.  I did not feel like a fish out of water.

I found how the PCA does business to be similar in many ways.  For instance, both bodies have guys who seemingly speak to EVERY recommendation.  There is also an underlying aura of fear at work in both bodies.  The “slippery slope” and “big brother” seem to never leave some people’s horizons.  I was reminded often of the Swirling Eddies’ song “Knee Jerk“.  People in both denominations have been wounded from experiences with the mainline denomination.  Sadly, those wounds are infected and need to be healed.  Instead, the people nurse and rehearse, therefore look upon many items with unnecessary suspicion.  This is sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Both assemblies are, obviously, filled with sinners.  How we go about our business is tainted by our sin.  And how we listen to the business is as well.  I suppose I should view this as a sanctifying process and seek to grow in patience and diminish in sarcasm.  The constant phrases “point of order” and “motion to recommit” wore me down (as did the lack of sleep).   That is just as much about me as it is about others.

The ARP often has a Pre-Synod Conference.  They bring in a speaker or two to address a pressing issue for the denomination or church at large.  The PCA has seminars in the morning.  It was good to be able to choose what topics I want to address.  They reflected the needs and/or goals of my ministry.  So, I went to:

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