Our church won’t officially transfer until September, so I didn’t think I would be a PCA Teacher Elder before then. But the process moved more quickly than I anticipated and I was able to take my transfer exams at the beginning of May. Having had an overly busy spring, and not making any prior plans to attend this year’s GA in Chattanooga, my elders thought it would be best for me to sit this one out. I trust there will be plenty of General Assemblies to attend in the future.
As my fathers and brothers (isn’t that the way you put it?) gather this week to worship, laugh, pray, reminisce, and conduct the business of the church, I thought perhaps I could join in in some small way by reflecting on why I’m thankful for the PCA.
I know the PCA is not a perfect denomination. I know there are likely to be frustrations even at this year’s General Assembly. I know church bodies must keep a close watch on their life and doctrine. The PCA ain’t heaven on earth–never has been, never will be. But as a newcomer to the PCA and relative (though very interested and, I think, somewhat informed) outsider, I see much to be thankful for.
1. Growth. Numbers aren’t everything, but considering many mainline denominations continue to shrink–and have every year since the 1960s–I’m thankful that the PCA trajectory since its inception in 1973 has been up. More churches, more members, more pastors. This is good.
2. Ministers and missionaries. In healthy denominations you will two things on the rise: missionaries wanting to go and young men wanting to pastor. While it can be a challenge for those men looking for a pastoral call, an abundance of pastoral candidates means the church has a future. Ditto for missionaries. Healthy denominations look outside themselves–and not just for humanitarian work (which is good), but with a zeal for reaching the unreached and planting gospel churches.
3. Exams. I’m thankful for a rigorous examination process. Denominations will not serve the cause of joy in the world unless they are serious about examining their own pastoral candidates. I’m glad that the Presbytery of the Great Lakes did not give me or my church a free pass. I had to study and take a two hour committee exam and then be examined another 40 minutes on the floor of Presbytery. Exams should be fair, but they must be rigorous, thorough, and fail-able.
4. Standards. Although there are differences regarding certain articles in the Westminster Standards, I’ve found that nearly everyone I know in the PCA takes them very seriously. The only thing worse than a denomination always arguing about theology is a denomination that never argues about theology.
5. Unofficial motto. I love that the PCA wants to be “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.” All three are essential. Let’s boldly and winsomely be inerrantists, Calvinists, and evangelists. Wouldn’t that be a strange and glorious combination.
6. Seminary pipeline. As the seminaries go, so goes the churches. Are there important differences among the many seminaries PCA ministers attend? To be sure, but I’m willing to bet that students from RTS, Covenant, and Westminster (among others) are getting more of the same content than they are getting distinctive content. That’s good, and what they are getting is good.
7. Leaders. When people outside the PCA think about the PCA they think about leaders like Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, and Phil Ryken. They think of authors like Nancy Guthrie and Susan Hunt. They think of pastors like Harry Reeder and R.C. Sproul. Having so many good men (and women!) to respect and admire is not a given and should not be taken for granted. With a healthy dose of authors, thinkers, leaders, and entrepreneurs, the PCA has always punched above its weight in terms of influence in the evangelical world and leavening in the broader culture.
8. Steady. The PCA has not budged on homosexuality or inerrancy or complementarianism or the uniqueness of Christ. Will the denomination always handle everyone of these issues in a way that strikes everyone as theologically robust and pastorally wise? Probably not. But is the PCA position on these issues widely known and held to with great unanimity? I believe so. Considering what kind of theological diversity exists in many denominations, the PCA runs a pretty tight ship.
9. Churches. Our 1300 congregations can look and feel very different. I doubt that any one church is thrilled with every other church in the denomination. But still, on the whole, when people ask me (as they do all the time), “I’m moving to some other part of the country, what church do you recommend?” I don’t hesitate to tell them, “Let’s start by seeing what PCA churches are in the area.” And it’s not just the big ones like First Presbyterian in Jackson, or Briarwood in Birmingham, or Tenth in Philadelphia, or Redeemer in New York City, or Christ Covenant in Charlotte, or Village Seven in Colorado Springs, it’s hundreds of lesser known churches that are no less faithful and have no less to offer by way of good gospel preaching, Christian community, and evangelistic outreach.
10. Opportunity. The PCA is a young denomination. I’ve moved from the oldest Protestant denomination in the country to one of the newest. There are always challenges that come with youth (who am I? what will I be when I grown up? how do I relate to those who have gone before me?). But there are also great opportunities too.
Like pursuing a gospel-driven diversity that listens and learns without patronizing and pigeon-holing.
Like engaging a wayward world with more theology, more conviction, more worship, and more of God.
Like showing the world that real unity can only be found in truth, that the richest doctrine leads to the fullest doxology, that the highest Christology produces the best missiology, and that staunchest Calvinists can be the most loving people you’ve ever met.
I don’t doubt that there are discouraging moments at most denominational meetings, but as a PCA outsider-turned-insider I see a whole more that makes me smile than makes me frown. So to all my PCA brethren: I’m very glad to be with you, even if for one more year I’ll be with you here instead of there.