PCA General Assembly 2014 Report

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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Houston, Texas.

Moderator: Dr. Bryan Chapell was elected Moderator of the PCA’s 42nd General Assembly. Dr. Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois. He is the former President and Chancellor of  Covenant Theological Seminary. Dr. George Robertson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia nominated Dr. Chappell.

2013 Numbers:

Churches & Missions:         1,808      (increase of 21 from 2012)
Professions of Faith:           9,327
Membership:                    367,033     (increase of 3,014 from 2012)
Total Family Units:            139,364 (increase of 2,033 from 2012)
Long Term Missionaries:   620      (decrease of 21 from 2012)
Two Year Missionaries:      118
Missionary Interns              276      (decrease of 78 from 2012)
Two Week Missionaries:    4,810      (increase of 62 from 2012)
RUF:                               145 campuses in 39 states and in 60 Presbyteries

Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly

  1. Insider Movement: Last year’s assembly ended with a great deal of confusion over the actions of the Assembly in relation to the Insider Movement Committee Report. A minority report emerged from the committee and the Assembly found itself in a difficult position when it tried to receive and approve both the committee and minority reports. In the end, last year’s Assembly chose to refer the matter back to the committee and ask it to report back at the 42nd General Assembly. At this year’s Assembly, the majority report was approved overwhelmingly and the minority report was not. The PCA General Assembly took a very clear stand on the Insider Movement. Dr. David Garner was an able and learned voice that presented the material clearly and pointedly on the floor of the Assembly.
  2. Child Protection: Most of this year’s overtures were related to child protection. Overture #6 was overwhelmingly approved by the Assembly as a strong resolution encouraging churches to screen child care workers, maintain child protection policies, faithfully report abuse, review its policies at a denominational level related to child protection, and teach against the sin of child sexual abuse.
  3. Support & Prayer: The overtures committee voted against an overture from Savannah River Presbytery calling for an expression of gratitude and prayer for those “facing fines, penalties, and ostracism for declining out of religious conviction to provide their services” for same-sex “marriage ceremonies” or taking a stand for the sanctity of human life. A minority report emerged from the Overture’s Committee that resolved to expresses its gratitude and pray “to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage.” The minority report was approved by the Assembly after becoming the main motion on a 445-395 vote tally. The vote seemed to take a turn when one commissioner rose to express his own past struggles with same sex attraction and expressed gratitude for those willing to confront him in love.
  4. Theistic Evolution/Historic Adam & Eve: Once again, the General Assembly chose not to make an in thesi statement regarding theistic evolution. However, it should be noted that in the Overtures Committee and on the floor of the Assembly there was no one who actually advocated for theistic evolution. It appeared that most of the opposition to issuing such a statement was that the Westminster Standards were sufficient in speaking to this matter already.
  5.  Agencies: Christian Education and Publication had its proposed name change approved by the Assembly. It will no longer be CE&P, but rather, the Committee on Discipleship Ministries. Reformed University Ministries saw a new coordinator elected to its helm with Rev. Tom Cannon’s official approval.

Personal Encouragements

  1. The irenic spirit of General Assembly debate is always a blessing to this Presbyterian’s soul. “How good it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).
  2. Theology and pastoral concern were but both present in the Assembly’s actions. Adopting the Insider Movement Committee’s report was the PCA at its theological best. It unashamedly pointed out error, warned the church of the dire consequences of such compromise, and spoke the truth with theological precision. The clear pronouncement and action related to child sex abuse was a pastorally sensitive and timely action taken by the Assembly. The willingness to show gratitude and thanksgiving to God for those taking a Biblically faithful stand on marriage and human life at the expense of suffering for that commitment was also a theologically and pastorally rich action by the Assembly.
  3. Dr. Derek Thomas’ sermon on Wednesday evening was Christ-exalting and faith-encouraging.
  4. The Gospel Reformation Network hosted a series of seminars and a luncheon at the Assembly. Each of these events was well attended. The doctrine of sanctification has received much attention within the Reformed community over the past few years and the heavily attended Gospel Reformation Network events was an encouraging sign.
  5. RUF’s continued growth and impact upon the campuses of the United States is one of the most encouraging signs regarding the present and future ministry of the PCA.
  6. The PCA is transitioning. New and younger voices seem to be emerging in the PCA General Assembly. Over the past few years there has been a growing absence of the Founding Fathers’ presence at the General Assembly. The older generation has been giving way to the younger generation. This year’s Assembly seemed almost absent of the voices of the Founding Fathers. This is not an encouragement as much as it is a reality of time and a natural transition. We are witnessing a real change in the “voice” of the PCA. In addition, many of the heads of our committees and agencies has changed over the past couple of years: Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, CE&P (and its new name), RUM, and Ridge Haven. MTW will be transitioning in the next year. It will be interesting to see whether this new generation of leaders is as faithful as the last.

Personal Concerns

  1. **(Clarification–I want to be very clear that there is no discussion in the PCA about whether homosexuality is acceptable or not a sin. No one in the PCA is advocating for the acceptance of homosexuality.**) A great deal of concern was expressed over issuing any statement related to homosexuality. The overture under discussion was actually expressing gratitude and prayer to God for those who were suffering for their stand on “homosexual marriage” and abortion. It was not a statement about homosexuality and it was far from harsh in its wording. Yet, there was a large minority voice that was vocal against passing such an overture. However, in many ways it was similar to the action taken by the Assembly on child sex abuse. They are both transcendent moral issues in our culture, have affected the church greatly, and have been issues brought to the church’s door. It seemed pastorally wise and timely to speak to both of these issues as a body. The vehement concern expressed on the floor of the Assembly about issuing such a statement seemed unwarranted. There are times that the church needs to speak to issues within its culture and fear of backlash should not be a deterrent.
  2. Within the Overture’s Committee and on the Assembly floor, it would be encouraging to hear more arguments from Scripture and less from personal experience. We should value personal experience. It is often very helpful to hear, but we should value Scripture more.
  3. As I stated in a previous year’s report, “The reluctance to issue a statement regarding theistic evolution was disappointing. The arguments were numerous: the PCA has spoken to this in previous assemblies, our Standards already speak to the issue, an in thesi statement does very little and is non-binding, etc. I have sympathies with each of these arguments. However, I think a true opportunity was lost. The PCA had an occasion to speak to a current theological issue that has arisen in our own circles. Have we spoken to this before? Yes. Do our Standards speak to the issue? Yes. But could we speak again? I believe the answer to that question, is, “yes,” as well.  Making a declarative statement in the midst of a popular and growing discussion would have hurt nothing and could have actually been a loud and resounding voice in the midst of this cacophony.”
  4. The number of commissioners and especially ruling elders has been decreasing each year. There were only 1,050 delegates to this year’s Assembly. Of that number, only 237 were ruling elders. Houston isn’t in the Southeast, but it also isn’t hard to reach for most presbyters. Years ago, part of the Strategic Planning Commission’s recommendations was to streamline the Assembly by moving floor debate to the Overture’s Committee. Part of the rationale was that most ruling elders find floor debate tedious. However, I have found that most ruling elders no longer want to attend the Assembly, because there is no substantive debate on the floor! In my humble opinion, this was a mistake. Either we need to return the debate to the floor or the denomination may need to consider an alternative to our annual Assembly (delegated, bi-annual, etc.).
  5. In my opinion, the overtures addressing the issues related to the Standing Judicial Commission were rightfully voted down. However, we still have some struggles in this area that need to be ironed out. The PCA needs to find a way to keep integrity and accountability in the forefront of its courts.
  6. The decrease in missionaries is of some concern. It is not a significant number, but as the PCA grows, so should our number of missionaries. It is also concerning that it appears that fewer and fewer PCA missionaries are engaged in planting Presbyterian and Reformed churches in their fields of labor. We should be thankful for many types of mission endeavors, but planting solid Presbyterian and Reformed churches should be our primary task in the mission field.

Overall

The 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America won’t create headlines around the world or be noted in histories of the Presbyterian Church. However, it was a good Assembly as the church conducted its very routine and ordinary business. We made theological pronouncements, exercised pastoral concern, worshipped, fellowshipped, and encouraged the mission of the Church. May God keep the PCA true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

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