Brothers and Sisters,
Two weeks ago, I sent you a brief overview of the upcoming General Assembly, along with specific items of concern that were facing our denomination as our elders gathered from all across the country. Now that I’m back home, I wanted to send you a brief report.
I won’t say everything that could be said.* Instead, here are some highlights:
We gathered for worship each night. The first night’s highlight, for me, came from Briarwood Presbyterian’s orchestra and choir. Singing along with the choir (not to mention the 2,500 people there) was incredible. Several times, I closed my eyes and imagined that these were the sounds of heaven. The following two nights were punctuated by powerful sermons from Elbert McGowan and Kevin DeYoung. I couldn’t find sermon videos but will share those when I do.
Fellowship and Mutual Encouragement
Back when I served in a congregational church, I felt alone and isolated. “Coming home” to the PCA, I’ve been profoundly encouraged by connecting with other churches and elders at presbytery and GA. It was a joy to meet new brothers, hear about what the Lord is doing, and learn a few things that can help us out here at Hickory Grove.
Mission to the World
MTW showed us a video about their response to the war in Ukraine and the incredible opportunities for ministry they’re seeing. The video’s worth watching, not just to know that our MTW dollars are being put to good use, but to praise God for the beauty He’s raising up out of those ashes.
AIC Report on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault (DASA)
A committee of four teaching elders, three ruling elders, and five advisory members put together a 220-page report on abuse and assault. This was not an investigative report a la the Southern Baptist Convention. Rather, this report offered a biblical and theological account of abuse, as well as a number of resources for recognizing and dealing with it in the church. I could not be there for the presentation of the report, but I’ve read the majority of it, and I think it will make for an incredibly useful resource in the years to come.
In my previous email, I shared quite a bit about the denomination’s struggles with addressing same sex attraction (SSA)—especially among those who would seek office in the church. I’m happy to report we passed overture 29 with the support of over 90% of the commissioners.
If two thirds of our presbyteries vote to affirm this overture and it receives majority approval at the next GA, it will add the following to our Book of Church Order (BCO):
16-4 Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. While office bearers will see spiritual perfection only in glory, they will continue in this life to confess and to mortify remaining sins in light of God’s work of progressive sanctification. Therefore, to be qualified for office, they must affirm the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, and be committed to the pursuit of Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions.
The passage of this overture by such an overwhelming margin is good news. I believe our denomination is committed to the teaching of Scripture as expressed in the Westminster Standards, as well as the specific application of the same to the issue of SSA.
You may have noticed, though, that nothing in that paragraph specifically names SSA. Overture 15 was introduced for that purpose—to say that any man who describes himself as a “homosexual” is unfit for ministry. This overture passed by barely more than 50% and will almost certainly fail to receive the support of two-thirds of our presbyteries.
Why did half of our elders vote against Overture 15? More cynical views would hold that “Side B” Gay Christianity has taken over the denomination. I think that’s false. There are myriad reasons for opposing this overture. Some think that it would open up officers to discipline if they were ever to share their struggles with (and victories over) this sin. They also think it would encourage them to hide their sin for fear of those who’d use this language against them.
Most opponents of Overture 15 argued that it’s unnecessary; our constitution already gives us what we need to correct and/or reject an officer who describes himself as a “gay Christian” or a “gay pastor.” We don’t need to name it in the BCO in order for us to deal with it. I think they’re right. Although I voted for 15 (and will very likely do so again) because I think it brings important clarity, I fully acknowledge that its passage is, strictly speaking, unnecessary given our existing doctrinal resources.
Again, this overture is going to fail. When it does, I don’t think we should see that as a sign of the PCA’s decline. Our denomination is virtually unanimous in its agreement on the sinfulness of SSA, as well as the availability of grace for all who struggle with it and the possibility of real change thanks to the sanctifying power of God.
Where we’re struggling right now is with how we apply that shared understanding to ordination. There are lots of reasons for elders to come down in different places in that discussion—and many (perhaps most) of them don’t involve ethical or biblical compromise.
Our denomination was born out of the liberalization of the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS). In the 60s and 70s, faithful elders fought the denomination’s failure to deal with moral failure and theological heresy (one could deny the inerrancy of Scripture along with the virgin birth, atonement, and resurrection, and still get ordained). When their fight proved futile, the PCA was born.
Although some have compared our present struggles to those, what we’re experiencing today is of an entirely different order. Our officers are still committed to Scripture and the doctrines of the Reformed faith. We may not always apply them in the same way, but we nonetheless enjoy great unity around the truths we confess. That’s why, by virtually all accounts, even the close vote on Overture 15 did nothing to upset the peace and purity of our assembly.
Our culture is hurtling toward moral oblivion at breakneck speed. We will continue to struggle as we seek to proclaim the truths of Scripture with wisdom and clarity. Be encouraged to know that you’re part of a denomination that prizes biblical truth and goes to great lengths to ensure that her churches and officers continue to walk in step with the Gospel.
In Christ Alone,
*For the official report on everything that happened at GA, see this article from our denominational magazine, “byFaith.” For a very capable (and concise!) analysis, you can check out this summary report written up by a teaching elder in Georgia.