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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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Someone recently sent me a link to R.C. Sproul’s lesson on The Role of Women in the Church. She had only a little info about the PCA study committee and was concerned. I allayed some fears, but since this is probably one of the few older Sproul lessons I haven’t heard I decided to listen to it with the officers of our congregation at a combined meeting.

This is so old that Bill Hybels made a guest appearance. I believe the context is that R.C. was asked to talk to a group of people at Willow Creek. In the intervening years, it would be safe to say that they have probably changed their position on this subject.

Here is something of a summary from the notes that I took.

Protest movements have real pain behind them at their roots despite their sometimes illegitimate actions. The Feminist movement is no different. It is a response to patronizing attitudes and exploitation. Women have not been treated well by men in society, and in the church.

On the other hand, the church has not missed the truth about women and ministry for 2,000 years. The question of who may be ordained is either determined by God, or my subjective evaluation of who is gifted to serve. The qualifications, particularly with regard to character, either matter or they don’t.

R.C. alluded to when he was in the United Presbyterian Church. The largely egalitarian denomination permitted men to hold the complementarian position. This changed after an ecclesiastical court case and officers like R.C. were told to change their views, leave for another denomination or face disciplinary action.

R.C. noted that he wrote a minority report for the PCA favoring the ordination of women. This requires some explanation, obviously. He has no prejudice against women. He wants to be as liberal on this question as the Scriptures allow him to be. In this context he mentioned a debate at Gordon-Conwell (or perhaps he said Gordon College where he taught for a time) years earlier when he was the only faculty member willing to take up the complementarian position. For him, the question always traces back to 1 Timothy 2.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

This passage, he believes and I concur, does not allow women in positions of authority in the church. Some kind of teaching and some kind of authority are prohibited. He noted there were different kinds of “authority”. There can the authority of expertise or influence. The type in question is judicial or governing authority.

Judicial authority is the right to command and demand the actions of others. Paul restricts judicial authority over men in the church. The context is ecclesiastical, so this is limited by that context. Women may have authority in the workplace or school and other contexts. He rejects patriarchy.

There is also the general vs. technical sense of teaching. He believes this refers to teaching with ecclesiastical authority.

The general term for office is diaconos- service. Church office is an office of service. We do not lord it over others like the Gentiles do.

Women are not allowed to sit in judicial power- to be on the session or an elder.

The PCA ties government to ministry in what he thinks is an unbiblical way. This is why he generally supports women deacons, but doesn’t in the PCA. The BOCO indicates that though an office of service, it has power or authority (though not a court so it is fairly confusing and one of those things I’d love to see clarified in the BOCO). Sproul thinks that preaching does not necessarily have governmental authority because the court is not in session during preaching. At this point R.C. and Bill discussed Elizabeth Elliot who refused to preach at Willow Creek on a Sunday morning. Bill invited her to come during the week. R.C. had her “speak” a few times at Ligonier c0nferences (that is not a local church and does not have an ecclesiastical governing body).

Our officers commented that perhaps this means a woman could be an assistant pastor since they don’t serve on the Session. But they do serve in the courts of presbytery and General Assembly so don’t take the joke seriously.

R.C. noted that he sometimes worries that his position is too liberal (and some PCA pastors would agree). But he needs to be faithful to the text, which is opponent in the aforementioned debate agreed supports the complementarian position. P.K. Jewett agreed that the complementarian interpretation of the text was correct. As a result, Jewett denied the authority of the text in his defense of women’s ordination.

Different denominations have different working definitions of ordination. All it means is to be consecrated to an purpose or office. Scripture nowhere explicitly says women are not to be ordained. We have to talk about the particular office in question, and build an implicit argument regarding ordination in general.

He main principle was that the parameter are to be those set forth in Scripture, not culture or the “light of nature.”

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At this year’s General Assembly they decided to have a study committee on women in the church. This was met with mixed reviews. Some were glad. I was glad, but I will not impute the reason for my joy to others. I want to better understand the Scriptures, in particular one text of Scripture, and for our church life to be more fully conformed to those Scriptures. In other words, I believe that notion of Reformed and reforming.

Some were upset seeing this as a move toward liberalism. They believe they fully understand the Scriptures and haven’t imported any erroneous cultural notions into our understanding of the Scriptures.

I don’t see this as the on ramp to women elders. This is especially true when I look at the people on the study committee. We’re talking Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt for Pete’s sake.

Our Session decided we wanted to study this subject for ourselves so we can better evaluate any majority and minority reports. In fact, our men’s ministry has decided to look at this too. So I’ve done some shopping to add to the books I own and have read on this subject. One of the books I added was Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. Kathy is also on this study committee and this was a book I wanted to read anyway.

In addition to being the wife of Tim Keller, Kathy has an MA in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell and spent some time as an editor for Great Commission Publications.

To call this a book is generous. It is more like a booklet, being 39 pages (plus a few pages of end notes). This increases the likelihood of it being read by my very busy elders. It also means that it won’t cover everything I might want it to cover or as in depth as I might want it covered.

Let’s lay the card on the table first. She is a complementarian. This is a broad term, and there are a few differences of opinion within this movement. Many want to claim their version as the only version. This, in fact, is one of the reasons for this book. She tries to nail down the essential point of complementarianism.

She divides the book into two chapters. The first focuses on hermeneutical issues and two key texts. The second focuses on how this plays out as she feels pressure from both egalitarians and more “conservative” complementarians (or those who may actually hold to a view of patriarchialism).

She begins by describing how she arrived at these conclusions (and to hold to the inspiration, infallibility and authority of the Scriptures) though she didn’t grow up believing them and they threatened her career ambitions. Hermeneutically she affirms that the analogy of Scripture (clear texts interpret unclear texts) and each text has a context (historical, cultural, social, and I might add theological) that affects its meaning. The two texts she focuses on are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. In some ways she views the first as less clear and the second as more clear such that 1 Timothy helps us understand 1 Corinthians.

We cannot isolate 1 Corinthians 14 from the rest of 1 Corinthians. This means that we cannot use it to mean that women must be absolutely silent in a worship service. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:5 mentions women praying and prophesying in the public worship service. While we might claim the prayer is silent, clearly the prophesying is not. As a result she notes “Paul in 1 Corinthians is not condemning the public ministry of women, but regulating it.” In other words, public exercise of spiritual gifts is to retain “divinely ordained gender roles.”

She does mention Miriam, Deborah and Huldah as women leaders. She, unfortunately, just mentions this in passing. Since these women are used by egalitarians like Sarah Sumner to justify their views, I think this bore more attention. Miriam, for instance, while publicly leading, was publicly leading women in the chorus of the song.

In its context, she understands (quite reasonably) this text to be about the elders evaluating and judging the content of prophecy in the worship service. They were discussing it and speaking authoritatively upon it. Women were not to be interjecting and disrupting this process which involved only the elders. This happened prior to the completion of the canon and the elders were to guard the deposit of truth they had (and were still receiving). We do this less formally now that the canon is complete by holding pastors to confessional standards. If I begin to preach deviant views, the elders are charged with admonishing me, and presbytery will be involved if I persist.

These view is supported by what we find in 1 Timothy 2. Debate has raged over whether “teach or have authority” (NIV), “teach or exercise authority” (ESV),  refers to two separate functions or one function (teaching in a position of authority). She, following James Hurley (who used to teach at RTS Jackson), Craig Blomberg and Philip Payne believes this is a hendiadys in which the conjunction connects the two verbs so they are mutually defining.

“So what is being forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2 (and by extension in 1 Corinthians 14) is authoritative teaching- some kind of teaching that carried with it an authority not found in other, allowable forms of oral discourse.”

In her understanding there are times when a teacher doesn’t have authority. You can disagree with a SS teacher or small group leader but it isn’t a problem. The problem is if we disagree with the elders on an important issue (it may be prompted by the disagreement with the SS teacher). The SS teacher can’t excommunicate you, but the Session can!

The main tenant of complementarianism is male headship in the church (and home). In the church it is male elders (there is disagreement on the question of deacons which means we have disagreements on the nature of a deacon or “ordination” behind the scenes).

Keller than briefly mentions the common reasons why people think we don’t have to obey these instructions by Paul: misogyny by Paul, only binding on the church then, and outdated commands. She notes how unconventional Paul was in his relationships with women and how the charge of misogyny really doesn’t have any legs. The second charge is based on a fallacy since every part of Scripture is written to a specific group at a specific time for a specific reason. We do distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive passages however. Scripture describes polygamous marriages, for instance, but never prescribes or affirms them. This second excuse also denies Paul’s instruction about Scripture in 2 Timothy 3. The third excuse essentially is that we have more light now. Another version of this would be the trajectory hermeneutic of some progressives like Rob Bell where we try to project what Paul might think & say today.

“Consider the enormous hubris in appointing our present cultural moment as the yardstick against which God’s Word must be measured.”

We should not give into the impulse to fall back onto “love” since the issue is so “complicated and confusing.” She reminds us that the great creeds and confessions of the church were the produces of (often) vigorous debate. It is better to dig deeper into the Scriptures and submit ourselves to what they say. This is not simply a personal project but a community project (regarding both time and space).

“I have found it fruitless, leading only to self-pity and anger in my own life, to question God’s disposition of things when I do not understand. Confidence in his goodness has been a better choice.”

The second section is really about trying to address those who disagree with her, both the women who are egalitarian and the men who are more patriarchical (my term) or those who have a more restrictive view of women in the church. She distinguishes between gifts and roles. We tend to conflate them. A woman can have a shepherding gift and she can exercise it, but not in the role of pastor. She brings up her now deceased professor Elizabeth Elliot in discussing this. We should want women to fully exercise their gifts even as we recognize that there is a role (or two?) they cannot fulfill. She puts forward a common formulation that a woman can do anything an unordained man do.

This is a SHORT book, as I mentioned. As a result there are a number of things I thought went unaddressed. I would have preferred some discussion about deacons. That was beyond her scope and is really not an egalitarian vs. complementarian question.

She does affirm the voluntary submission of the Son as Mediator in the economic Trinity. In the footnote in that paragraph she clearly denies Eternal Submission of the Son, which is proposed by some complementarians or at least seems to be. She rightly calls this, in my opinion, a heresy. Some people, like Wayne Grudem, keep doubling down on their ESS views (which are also found in the ESV Study Bible). Frame’s comments are quite tentative on this issue.

Anyway, this was a helpful booklet to read even though its scope was limited. Reading this I see no reason for my more “conservative” brothers (I am a conservative, by the way) to fear the PCA sliding into liberalism with Kathy’s inclusion on the study committee.

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“A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” A.A. Hodge

I came across this years ago when reading Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Note: he wrote this in a commentary on a confession of faith.

Since I’m currently putting together SS material on the Westminster Standards I saw the red ink underlining and exclamation points in the margin. John Calvin expresses similar sentiments in his chapter on The Power of the Church in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541). I decided to run an experiment. I put it on my FB page, and in a closed group I belong to connected to Calvinism. I was curious if there would be any difference in responses.

On my FB page, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few questions, but no big deal.

In the group, it was overwhelmingly negative. There were a number of misinterpretations of the quote. People were fairly unreasonable. I know, shocking conduct on the internet.

Here is a sampling:

“I disagree. attendance and membership are two different things. …theology is as important as doxology.. we are there to preserve both.. as a group we draw lines in the sand.. as an open group we do not.

“…maybe we should eliminate membership and just gather together without running church like a business. … If you expect the rent/mortgage on your church’s building to be paid, your pastor to be paid, the facility clean and in good repair, and your favorite ministries to be funded, then yeah, church needs to have a business component to it. Some churches take that too far and forget they’re a church, but churches have to run like a business to some degree.”

I also disagree. The elders are responsible to guard the flock, and you can’t keep the wolves out if you just admit members indiscriminately. Membership lists also have a use in determining who is eligible for church discipline. Just because a person sits in the pews doesn’t mean the church has authority to discipline them.

I would not expect a Pentecostal to accept me as a member since I do not accept their core beliefs about how the Spirit works and manifests itself. There should be some basic doctrinal agreement and some kind of pledge to serve to be a member.

“In order to worship in unity you need to agree on some things that aren’t salvation essentials. I don’t doubt the salvation of my Presbyterian brethren even though I doubt the legitimacy of their baptizing infants. They don’t doubt my salvation either but they would view my refusal to baptize my kids before conversion as disobedience to Christ’s command. Baptism is definitely not an essential doctrine but is practically speaking pretty important in fellowship and worship. …Messianic Christians and seventh day Adventists worship on Saturday, and think we’re misinterpreting the New Covenant when we worship on Sunday. They probably don’t doubt our salvation and in many cases we don’t doubt theirs, but it’d be pretty difficult to worship together weekly because they wouldn’t want to gather on our day nor we on theirs.”

“Nobody has to attend our church regularly in order to be saved, nobody has to agree to our church’s confession and member’s covenant to be saved, even baptism is not a requirement in order to be saved. So obviously this statement as it appears is false. But I wonder if it is explained in context in a way that might show it to have a true meaning.

We see an avalanche of erroneous assumptions, worse-case scenarios and oddities marshaled to reject Hodge’s premise.

What does Hodge mean? What doesn’t he mean?

These words begin that paragraph:

“In all Churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling.”

Hodge is writing a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. He believes in the use of Confessions and Creeds. He believes churches should have and use a Confession of Faith. He held to the Westminster Confession.

So, Hodge is NOT arguing that churches shouldn’t have a confession.

Hodge recognizes the distinction between members and officers. Members are held to a higher standard. He is speaking of the Confession, not extra-biblical conditions (keep reading). The Confession must be accepted, and taught, by the leadership of the church.

What the quote is saying, in part, is that holding to (subscription) the Confession (or any confession) should not be a requirement of membership. There are some denominations, wanting to limit doctrinal controversy. I used to be a pastor in the ARP and the membership questions included: “Do you accept the doctrines and principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”  A confusing qualifier to be sure. The URC requires membership subscribe to the Three Forms of Membership. I was surprised upon joining the PCA that there was no similar vow. Many wish there was one, but I tend to think there shouldn’t be.

This does not mean that Hodge didn’t think members didn’t have to believe anything. They had to believe anything necessary for saving faith. The Westminster Confession includes things necessary for saving faith, but has far more in there. The additional topics are for our well-being rather than our salvation. We should require faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate & part of the Trinity, who died and rose again. We should also require repentance as well. And baptism as included in the Great Commission. In other words, as far as we can tell, comunicate members should be Christians.

The other thing Hodge is (may be) saying is that membership should not bind the conscience in any way not required for salvation. Some church membership vows include abstinence from alcohol, smoking or dancing. These are not requirements for salvation (or sanctification).

In speaking about “church constitutions” Calvin argues in this way:

“So we must rapidly conclude as we argued earlier that, where God is concerned, our consciences are in no way compelled or obligated by any such constitutions. Their aim is to bind our souls before Go and to lay duties upon us, as if the things which they commanded were essential for salvation. Such today are all those constitutions called ‘church constitutions which they say are necessary if God is to be truly honored and served. They are countless in number, and make for equally countless bonds which keep souls imprisoned.”

If you think it wise not to drink alcohol, or dance or have the occasional cigar, you are able and free to make that decision for yourself. What you are not free to do is to bind the conscience of others to the same extra-biblical command. No church is free to so bind the conscience of its members. The doctrine of Christian Freedom needs to be taught in churches so members won’t fight over these matters (like the discussions I’d had as a young Christian with people who hated Christian rock, or secular music). You don’t resolve the argument biblically by binding consciences. “So you won’t fight about a beer with your pizza, we’ll just prohibit drinking altogether.” Too many churches take this very route and sin against God and their members.

Back to Confessions. Church members should know that the church has a confession, and that the teaching of the church will conform to that confession. I cover this in our membership class. I give them a copy of the Westminster Standards.

Some members will already agree with the Confession. That’s great! But I hope that many members are younger Christians. We are not a Reformed refuge where you need the secret password (John Calvin Owen & Newton). I see holding to the Confession as one of the goals of my teaching. I want people to move toward the Confession, understand it better and increasingly affirm it as a summary of Scripture. We can’t demand that as a condition of membership, however. We should never say to a Christian, you can’t be a member here. We may say, this is what we teach. If you are willing to discover more about this great. But if you fight about it, this may not be where your membership should be. Just as we offer Christ’s Table, this is Christ’s church. We may be Presbyterians, but can’t restrict membership to Presbyterians. I want people to grow in & into their faith in my congregation.

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If you are white you have probably struggled with it. “I didn’t do it.” In a sense, you are right. I was raised in the northeast, and Roman Catholic, and born during the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws. When we are asked to confess and repent of sins that aren’t personally ours we struggle.

I get that. But we can’t stop there. When we hear these words in our own minds, or from the mouths of our church members, officers and fellow Presbyters we can’t just go, “okay.”

Monday morning I opened my Bible. In my personal reading I was nearing the end of 2 Samuel. There in chapter 21 is a story from David’s reign that addresses this for us.

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

There was a famine in Israel. It stretched on long enough for David to seek God about it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like what he heard back. It was all Saul’s fault. Way back in the days of Joshua the Gibeonites had tricked Israel into making a covenant of protection. Instead of voiding the covenant, they kept it but the Gibeonites became their servants. During his reign, Saul slaughtered most of them.

God was not happy at Saul’s covenant breaking and murder. He did not immediately judge Saul for this. In fact, He apparently didn’t include this when Saul died in battle for his various sins. The bloodguilt remained.

David was the new king after a period of struggle. This is probably many years into his reign. But God said it must be dealt with NOW. It must be dealt with by YOU. David didn’t do it. Saul did. Saul who was long dead.

When it comes to the covenant community God apparently doesn’t care that you personally had no involvement in the corporate sins of the community. Just as you share in Adam’s sin, you also share in the sins of leaders of the covenant community.

So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?”

David sought out the remnant to see how this could be made right. Note how Saul’s sin is characterized. His zeal was for “his people” and he struck down the Gibeonites. Sound vaguely familiar?

In my previous post I laid out some of the ways the Southern Presbyterian Church, including what would become the PCA, had sinned. Kevin Twit noted that at its founding the leaders of the PCA stressed they were the continuing Presbyterian Church. This is why Sean Michael Lucas’ book is about the Continuing Presbyterians, aka the PCA. They viewed the PC (US) as having departed from the faith, but they were continuing in it. They also continued in some sinful ways. Travis Hutchinson lays out some of the evidence for this on his blog. He points to a book, written in 1987, that is a history of the PCA up to that point which espouses racist viewpoints. This book was given to the denomination so proceeds of its sale could go to the denomination. Yeah, let that sink in. He also shares some personal stories that reveal that racists be among us.

Will we continue to say “It’s not our problem” or will we be like David and say “How can we make this right?”

Ultimately the seven men descended from Saul put to death point us to Christ who bore the full burden of our sin, including racism, indifference and hardness of heart. We can admit we have done wrong, that we share in the guilt of our fathers (like Nehemiah did!) precisely because Christ bears our guilt. We can be honest instead of pretending. The doctrine of justification matters! We can say “We failed you and we are sorry. How can we move forward?” Like David we should seek the blessing of the heritage of the Lord through repentance.

Here is the protest that many of us signed.

We the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA (the undersigned) understand that repentance is not merely a statement, but steps of faithfulness that follow. Allowing that more time is needed to adequately work on such a denominational statement, but also the need for action now, we 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. We commit ourselves to the task of truth and repentance over the next year for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. We urge the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek truth and repentance for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

 

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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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