PCA Funding Plan Fails

Back in the summer the General Assembly voted to amend its constitution to change the way the Administrative Committee is funded. Right now, giving in the PCA is done on a voluntary basis. Amendment 14-1 would have completely changed that from voluntary giving to involuntary. Amendment 14-2 would redefine “voting membership” for General Assembly by creating new rules for who could vote at GA. According to this amendment, for a teaching elder to get to participate at GA, his church would have to pay the full amount established by the AC committee proposal, plus, he would also have to pay an additional personal tax on top of that. If these conditions are not met, then not only would he not get to vote, but the church would be reported to the GA.

However, even though GA voted in favor of these amendments, for them to be adopted, the presbyteries had to vote on them. For them to pass,2/3 of the 79 presbyteries (53) would have to vote in favor of the amendments.  For them to fail, over 1/3 of the presbyteries (27) would have to vote no.  Well as of yesterday, the New York State Presbytery became the 27th to vote down 14-1 and the Presbytery of Eastern Carolina became the 27th to vote down 14-2.  This means that even thought there are 23 presbyteries that still have to vote, the magical number of 53 cannot be obtained, so the amendments fail.

For a complete list of which presbyteries have voted for and against, see this article at The Aquila Report.

For a thorough recap of all the events leading up to where we are now, see this post at Johannes Weslianus.

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Call to Confesional Renewal Will Be Heard at PCA General Assembly

According to Wes White:

. . . the Admin committee voted 28-2-0 to recommend approval of the NW Georgia Presbytery’s overture on confessional renewal. This overture will be presented on Thursday as a substitute motion for the permanent committee’s motion to reject this overture. We adopted the NW Georgia Presbytery in such a way that it is a stand alone motion and not an alternative to the Strategic Plan.

This is good news to us at RP who adopted this overture as our position on the proposed Strategic Plan.  I am quite eager to see and hear the discussion on confessional renewal as I believe it will be very telling for the confessional stance of the PCA.

>A Superb Summary of the Problems and Concerns Surrounding the PCA Strategic Plan

>Wes White has provided a great distillation of the many and various problems and concerns with the PCA Strategic Plan in his blog post today “Why We Should Vote Down the Strategic Plan.”  This is the best summary I have seen so far with very clear analysis.  Wes sums up his position at the beginning of the post when he says,

In my opinion, this is a very poor lan, with very poor analysis, and with a whole bunch of bad ideas that will take the PCA in the wrong direction.  It enshrines the agenda of the progressives in the PCA as the agenda of the PCA.

In his post, Wes provides six basic reasons for why the SP should be voted down, many of which agree with some of what I have posted on this blog(here, here, here, here, here, and here):

  1. The SP’s analysis is flawed
  2. It further centralizes power in the PCA
  3. It is filled with bad ideas
  4. It is filled with useless ideas
  5. It is contrary to the constitution of the PCA
  6. The defenses of it are weak at best

In addition to this summary of his disagreement with the SP, he has also posted a helpful summary explanation of the SP and a fairly exhaustive list of internet commentary on the SP with all sides represented.

If you still have questions about the SP, you would do well to read Wes’ posts and take advantage of the resources he has assembled.

>Globalism, The Westminster Standards, and The PCA Strategic Plan

>Do we need to jettison or at least add to the Westminster Standards in order to participate more effectively in the global mission of the Church?  In order for the gospel ministry to be more effective, does it need to be freed from North American and European biases that result from a more rigorous Reformed theology?  Have the self-consciously confessional Presbyterians mistakenly equated confessional Reformed piety and practice with 16th century Swiss, Scottish or British culture?

In his recent article “Catholicity Global and Historical: Constantinople, Westminster, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, in the Westminster Theological Journal, Robert Letham provides the historical and global make-up of the Westminster Standards and shows how the Divines purposely placed themselves in the stream of historic, orthodox biblical interpretation by allowing the ancient creeds to guide the Westminster Standards.  He notes how they saw themselves as continuing and perpetuating the insights of the Church fathers and the ancient creeds.

After laying out the ecumenical history and content of the Westminster Standards, he turns his attention to those who say that the Church needs to free herself from the influence of Western theology and practice in order to be more effective globally, and that the Church needs to allow the third world theologians to shape today’s theology and practice.  He notes,

There are those who claim that we are entering an entirely new era requiring a massive paradigm shift in the church’s thought and action. In this case, historical theology is merely a curiosity. It may have a part in an ongoing conversation but the debate has moved on. The past is effectively sidelined since a conversation, as it progresses in subtle and dynamic ways, renders obsolete and irrelevant the comments made five minutes ago. Many voices praise the idea that the church will be freed from its captivity to Western Europe and North America. This misses the point that the foundations of the church were laid by Egyptians (Athanasius and Cyril), Turks (the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor), Tunisians (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine), and a Syrian ( John of Damascus), to say nothing of the apostles (Middle-Eastern Jews)—these hardly look like Western Europeans, let alone North Americans. This mantra is a coded message, indicating that its utterer wants to move away from the confining dogmas of the Reformation. . . . The ecumenical creeds cannot be reduced to conversation partners at a global round table. Insights there may and will be from various parts of the world. But the nature of the ecumenical councils was quite different—they simply confessed the truth and the church recognized what they confessed. They were acknowledging the apostolic faith, not bringing insights from their culture. The same principle applies to the teachings of the Reformation. (p. 55)

Letham’s point is quite timely given the desire on the one hand to make church practice reflective of culture while on the other hand complaining about the cultural captivity of Reformed theology and practice.  Maybe what they mean to say is that we would be better served to be held captive to culture that is not North American or European.  Funny how the winds of politics seem to be shaping this conversation. But merely exchanging one cultural influence for another is not biblical, but is also not truly catholic or ecumenical.

If we are going to be more “global” it cannot be the result of leaving history behind, even Westminster history. Letham concludes, “Global Christianity in the twenty-first century, to be truly catholic, must be apostolic—grounded in Scripture and built upon the teaching of the church. It is worryingly evident that many who have leaped onto the bandwagon of globalism—mainly in this country—are ready to move beyond the foundations. (p.57)

As the Christian Church, who has been commissioned by Christ to take his gospel to all the globe, it is right for us to desire and spend ourselves in going global.  Yet, we need to pursue it wisely.  And the wise way includes retaining our history, especially our history of interpretation of the Bible.  This history is retained for us in the historic creeds of the Church including the Westminster Standards–both in doctrine and practice.  Let us not fall prey to bad practice as a result of a bad understanding of our Standards and of ourselves.  Yes we go forth as Americans subscribing to the Westminster Standards, which means but we go forth with a gospel founded upon, shaped by and explained in the creedal and confessional work of many nations.

>Reformed Presbyterian Church’s Response to "PCA Strategic Plan"

>On Tuesday, June 15, 2010, the Session of Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain met to discuss the “PCA Strategic Plan,” which will be presented at General Assembly later this month.  If you don’t want to wade through all the written materials, a helpful one page summary of the details to be approved can be read here.  A helpful summary of the funding plan can be viewed here. You can also find a series of videos presenting the CMC’s plan here.

It was the determination of the Session that the PCA Strategic Plan, though well-intentioned, correct in much of what it perceives as challenges facing the PCA, and is being set forth as an honest attempt at answering these challenges in order to make the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination, nonetheless,we believe that it is misguided, will not actually improve things, and is out of step with RP’s stated understanding of what the scriptures and our confessional standards teach concerning the identity, worship and mission of the Church.

Because of these concerns,  the Session passed the following motion as its position on the PCA Strategic Plan:

The Session is in agreement with the overture of Northwest Georgia Presbytery, “A Call for PCA Renewal,” as its response to the PCA Strategic Plan, as that overture reflects our understanding of what the Bible teaches about the identity, worship and mission of the Church.

RP’s identity, worship and mission have been summed up by the following:

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain is a Reformed, confessional, and covenantal family of believers seeking to trust and obey our Triune God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And we seek to live out this identity by:

1. Continuously seeking the truth of God’s Word, our only guide for faith and practice by:

  • Seeking to experience daily the Kingdom that our Savior won and secured through His humiliation and exaltation, even as we await the fullness of His Eternal Reign
  • Emphasizing the importance and primacy of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day
  • Feeding upon God’s Word through various regular Bible study groups and meetings for the spiritual nourishment of all the congregation
  • Calling confidently upon God in regular corporate, family and private prayer on behalf of the Kingdom of God
  • Continuing in historic orthodoxy, adhering to the Westminster and other Reformed Standards

2. Calling the Sabbath a delight by:

  • Answering God’s call for His people to gather with all His beloved before His Throne for worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day
  • Rejoicing in a worship dialogue with our Triune God in Word and sacrament
  • Celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly

3. Embracing our lives as the Covenant People of God by:

  • Submitting to our God-ordained Church authorities and the proper administration of Church discipline
  • Devoting ourselves to one another in sweet and costly fellowship
  • Helping each other fulfill their sacred convenantal obligations in all family relationships
  • Enjoying and submitting ourselves to the sovereign rule and will of our Triune God

4. Spreading the Gospel in word and deed locally and globally by:

  • Providing financial, prayer and personal support and opportunities for involvement in foreign missions
  • Loving our neighbors through active support in local ministry organizations
  • Living lives that proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus

5. Equipping the Saints for a life of service to God and His people by:

  • Encouraging a lifetime of learning so that we might grasp the wonder of who God is and how much He has given us
  • Calling the Church to remember her heritage as God’s Covenant people
  • Assisting parents as they seek to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord
  • Supporting parents in the surrounding community through the ministry of the Classical Studies Center, a classical tutorial school
  • Training and seasoning young men who are preparing to enter seminary in pursuit of full time Gospel work
  • Providing a church home away from home for visiting college students

We believe that not only our theology, but also our piety and practice should be self-consciously and confessionally Reformed.  Therefore, the Session determined to support Overture 24 from the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, “A Call for PCA Renewal” since it is a better alternative to the PCA Strategic Plan.  We would particularly highlight the following section of the overture:

Therefore, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, meeting on May 22, 2010, overtures the 38th General Assembly to call all its congregations and presbyteries to this simple, straightforward, unambiguously biblical call for renewal as an alternative to the complex and potentially divisive “PCA Strategic Plan,” except for the funding proposal already presented by the Administrative Committee, which this overture wishes neither to condemn nor support. And let us trust that in the coming years God will enable us, by His Spirit, to faithfully employ the spiritual means that He Himself has already provided us.

17 Points for PCA Renewal

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching (Is. 55:10-11; Ez. 37:1-10; Jn. 21:15-17 Mk. 1:38; Acts 2:42; 20:26-27; I Cor. 1:22-25; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; WLC 67, 154-5).

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Gen. 17:9-11; Ex. 12; Mt. 26:26-29; 28:19; I Cor. 10:16-17; 11:17-34; Col. 2:11-15; I Pet. 3:21; Rev. 19:6-9; WLC 154; 161-177).

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained means of private, family and corporate prayer (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:5-15; Mk. 1:35; Acts 6:4; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:17; I Tim. 2:1; WLC 154; 178-196).

A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Is. 58:13-14; Mk. 2:23-28; Jn. 20:1;19; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10; WCF 21).

A renewed commitment to worship on God’s terms, according to Scripture (Ex. 20:4-6; Lev. 10:1-3; Deut. 12:32; Jn. 4:23-24; Acts 2:42; Col. 2:18-23; Heb. 10:24-25; 12:28-29; WCF 21.1).

A renewed commitment to private, family, and public worship (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:6, 16-18; Neh. 1:4-11; Dan. 9:3-4; Deut. 6:4-6; Eph. 6:1-4; Ps. 100:4; Acts 2:42; Heb. 10: 24-25; WCF 21.5-6). 

 A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to Reformed ecclesiology (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 14:19-23; 15:1-41; 20:17, 28; I Cor. 11:17-34; The Pastoral Epistles; Titus 1:5; WCF 25; 30-31).

A renewed commitment to loving, Word-and-Spirit-dependent, prayerful, and courageous evangelism (Mt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Acts 4:1-13; I Peter 3:15-16; WLC 154-7).

A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:1-13; 11:27-29; II Thess. 3:6, 14-15; I Tim. 5:20; WLC 45; WCF 30).

A renewed commitment to biblical diaconal ministry (Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8-13).

A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children in our homes and churches (Deut. 6:4-6; Prov. 22:6; Mk. 10:13-16; Eph. 4:12-13; 6:1-4; WSC).

A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity (Gen. 2:18-25; Deut. 31:6-7; Prov. 31:1031; I Cor. 16:13; I Peter 3:1-7; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:11-15; WLC 17).

A renewed commitment to entrust the leadership of the Church into the hands of the ordained leadership (Jn. 21:15-17; I Tim. 5:17; Heb.13:17; I Pet. 5:1-3; WLC 45).

A renewed commitment to the Reformed Confession which we have avowed, before God and men, to promote and defend as our system of doctrine (I Tim. 6:12; Heb. 4:14; 10:23; Jude 3; Westminster Standards).

A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness (Rom. 6:11-14; 8:13; 12:1-2; I Cor. 6:12; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:20-24; I John 2:15-17; Gal. 6:14; WLC 76-7).

A renewed commitment to the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works of the law (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1; Gal. 2:15-16; 3:10-14; Phil. 3:1-11; WCF 11).

A renewed commitment to rest, by faith, in Christ alone for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience (i.e. the third use of the law) / (Rom. 1:5; 6:1-2; 8:5-8; II Cor. 7:1; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:1; 5:1-21; Phil. 3:12; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:14; I John 5:3; WCF 19.5-7).

Furthermore, rather than having the Cooperative Ministries Committee propose additional structural changes, let us adopt this plan for renewal (reflected in the seventeen points above) asking our presbyteries and sessions, who are the best originators of denominational change, to study, discuss and implement it. Accordingly, this overture asks our appropriate elected leaders to represent and publicize this to our churches in writing or in counsel as the action of the 38th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. By taking this action, we, as elders, intend to send a clear and simple message to our churches, presbyteries, General Assembly, and the world, that the PCA will seek spiritual renewal on God’s terms, trusting solely in His sovereign wisdom and grace.

As we believe this overture closely resembles our own beliefs and commitments, we believe it to be a superior option for the PCA to adopt at General Assembly instead of the Strategic Plan.

May God grant his Church the wisdom, grace and resolve to trust what he has promised to bless.

>"An Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal" from the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia (Updated)

>Over at the Aquila Report, David Hall (Midway PCA in Powder Springs, GA) has posted some Questions and Answers concerning the overture of the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia for an alternative plan to the PCA Strategic Plan.  He begins with filling out some the details of what action took place in producing the overture.  He explains that the presbytery met to debate and eventually pass two overtures,

The first overture called for a ‘means of grace’ alternative to the proposed Strategic Plan; the second called for a recognition of the sufficiency of our constitution to govern offices and ordination in the church, along with a call to conform our practices to those objective standards until or unless the constitution is amended.  

From reading the Q and A, there are two things that stand out to me (besides the great content!).  First, I really appreciate the participation of the ruling elders in the presbytery.  Hall states that there were more RE’s present than TE”s.  It is good to see these shepherds taking their calling seriously.  And I agree with Hall that often, the opinions and ideas expressed by the RE’s provide a more accurate expression of the church than that expressed by the “professional class.”  I believe this will provide the opportunity for a broader audience to take it seriously.

Secondly, I appreciate the way he describes the debate taking place irenically.  And that the intended purpose of their temperate and respectful debate is for the unity of the church and not to exasperate brothers in Christ or broaden the disjunction of those involved.  They are not merely seeking to put something forward that is the opposite of the Strategic Plan just to be opposite, in fact, he mentions places where they agree.  They are seeking to provide what they (and I) believe to be a biblical and confessional alternative for accomplishing the calling of the church in the Great Commission.

Let me close with his encouraging words, “We commend these to our church, along with our prayers for God’s blessings on our leaders, our churches, and the upcoming General Assembly. We hope many will join in such hopeful and positive sentiments.”

You can read the entire Q and A here.

>"An Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal" from the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia

>Coming from the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia of the PCA is an overture I can support.  The men of the NWGP have provided 17 points for renewal in the PCA–points that promote reformed practice in addition to Reformed theology.  Kudos to the men of the NWGP for stating such a clear, biblical and confessional response that is irenic and profitable.  There is no need to leave confessionalism behind in order to do Reformed ministry, rather, what is needed is a robust commitment and engagement in Reformed theology, piety, and practice in the life of the church in worship, nurture and missions.  We have a rich perspective–why not put it to use?  We don’t need to be less or other than what we are, and how can we reproduce Reformed churches if we are less than Reformed in the process?  Our ministry should reflect the God-centered, covenantal theology of our standards,

 . . . the remedy to our denominational maladies is not the implementation of what some see as a fairly complex, mildly therapeutic, sociologically savvy strategic vision. Rather, what the PCA needs – in fact, what every NAPARC denomination always needs – is a clear, uncompromising call to biblical and confessional renewal, renewal that is on God’s terms, not man’s.

The preface is helpful in explaining that those who disagree with the Strategic Plan do not disagree because they are not in favor of missions, but because they believe that God has promised to bless certain means, so the ministry of the church should be focused on those things, and not on things that God has not promised to bless,

Many believe that the current problems in the PCA have less to do with cultural irrelevancy and insensitivity, and more to do with a lack of confidence in the sufficient, efficacious means that God Himself has promised to bless for the health and extension of His kingdom. Perhaps we – the PCA – should examine ourselves, and ask ourselves some searching, even convicting questions – questions that may help us to recognize our current problems: Why the upturn in topical, loosely textual, media/story driven sermons? Why the downturn in exegetical, Christ-centered, lectio-continua Bible preaching? Why the upturn in focus upon missional broadness, social programs and eco-gospel ministry? Why the downturn in substantial prayer in public worship? Why the absence of congregational prayer meetings? Why the upturn in focus upon women possessing greater roles in worship and denominational leadership (“direction and development”)? Why the downturn in sessions boldly calling men to lead their families and Christ’s Church (i.e. public worship, family worship)? The main goal or plan of the PCA for the next forty years should be a courageous, God-centered, joyfully reverent return to Reformed Faith and practice, as set forth in the Westminster Standards and her sister confessions (e.g. The Three Forms of Unity). This is a call to renewal that we should all be able to get behind.

 It is not new in the tradition of American Presbyterianism to want to divorce orthodoxy from orthopraxy, a la, the “doctrine divides but ministry unites” chorus of the new school/old school debates of the nineteenth century, so no one should be surprised to see this manifested again.  But it is because this is not new that we must understand that it apparently is not going away and there is once again a need for a loving, irenic and faithful response.

You can read the entire overture here.  Let me add my “Amen!”

>An Alternative (That’s Not New) PCA Strategic Plan

>Since I first introduced a couple of my concerns about the new “Strategic Plan” of the PCA, I have been planning on following up with a positive statement proposing action for the PCA but have not been able to get around to it.  Well, now I don’t have to.

The Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne, pastor of Grace PCA in Douglasville, GA (just west of Atlanta) and author of John Owen on the Lord’s Supper and In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship, and who is deeply committed to the Reformation2Germany project, has offered an alternative proposal for the PCA that reflects my own thoughts and commitments and those of the congregation I serve.  He states,

What we need more than anything in the PCA is a warm, winsome, consistent, serious, joyful, positive expression of Reformed and confessional Presbyterianism that unashamedly and courageously applies the theology of our Confession to the way we worship, preach, teach, write, shepherd, discipline, serve, evangelize and plant-churches (Domestic and International).

The need in the PCA is not new “safe places,” the creation of gospel eco-systems, withdrawing from those with whom we share doctrine in order to learn from and participate with those with whom we do not share doctrine, or partnering with “groups” that aren’t churches.  How can a “group” accomplish the Great Commission of Matthew 28.18-20 if they can’t administer the sacraments and church discipline?

No, the new alternative that the PCA needs is not new at all, but a return to biblical faithfulness.  Remember it is God who is on the mission, and he is building his church through the Christ.  And remember, this is all rooted in his plan that he and the other members of the trinity agreed upon before the foundation of the world. He covenanted, he decreed, he accomplished and is now applying what he accomplished–and he does this according to his prescribed means–what he thinks is best.  He has not done all this to then leave it up to us to fulfill what he promised to do–what he has left up to us is to do what he has promised to bless and then leave the results up to him–results he predetermined before the foundation of the world.  Trust me–none of the elect will be lost!

So what are the 17 points of his (and mine! ha!) alternative proposal that is not new since it is what God has prescribed?

1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.
2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.
3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.
4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.
5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.
6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.
7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.
8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.
9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.
10. A renewed commitment to family worship.
11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.
12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.
13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.
14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.
15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.
16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.
17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

I heartily agree with Payne’s conclusion,”This vision, I believe, would unify our beloved denomination in what God Himself has clearly promised to bless,” [emphasis mine].

>Strategic Plan/Identity for the PCA?

>The Cooperative Ministries Committee has unanimously approved its “Strategic Plan” for understanding, evaluating and responding to the slowed numerical growth of the PCA (even the apparent frightening reality that there was even numerical shrinking),

This Strategic Plan seeks to address these realities by helping the PCA identify its challenges, address them with strategies that are consistent with our biblical values, and build denominational support for implementing these strategies. The overall goal is to enable the church to work together to steward its blessings and resources to advance the cause of Christ according to the principles and priorities of his Word.

If one does not wish to read all the analysis and evaluation and get right to the “strategies,” a helpful overview can be read here.  You can find an article in byFaith Magazine here.  You can also find a series of videos presenting the CMC’s plan here.

At the heart of the issue here, is the question over identity, or in the words of the committee “a proposed plan for the future of the PCA.”  There is much that could be said about this plan and there are many points that could be addressed.  But, given that this proposal concerns identity, I would like to address a couple of big-picture issues rather than specific details.  So, in my mind, a foundational question that must be answered is, “Is the identity that is assumed in these strategies and will be further entrenched by these strategies biblical/confessional?”.

First, the plan further centralizes power for making decisions in the PCA’s ministry.  Centralization of power, even in the church, is never a good thing, but especially within a Presbyterian denomination.  Presbyterian is not a top-down ecclessiology, but rather a representative ecclessiology where men ordained to exercise the keys of the kingdom exercise them on behalf of Christ for the church.  Presbyterianism spreads the authority equally, where as, centralization takes it away from some and puts it in the hands of fewer men.  And this is particularly dangerous given what the Bible says about who is participating in governing the church.  Presbyterianism is a representation consisting of sinners saved by grace who still sin.  This fact of the ongoing presence of sin and struggle with it further under-girds why centralization is wrong headed.  Presbyters already have a impossible calling as is–is it very wise to make that calling even more precarious?  Do we want to temp men to abuse power?  No matter how godly leadership is, it is still a leadership consisting of sinners who can be easily tempted to abuse authority.  If you think this concern is unfounded, then you may want to read more history, yes, even church history. Centralization will put the church in harm’s way by creating an environment for authoritarianism, where the will of the few powerful and elite will be forced on the many.  And the few powerful and elite always seem to be those with more money.  Is this the direction we want to take things?  To put the smaller and the weak in a position to be furthered looked over and ignored?  Centralization, then, is contra Presbyterian.

Secondly, the plan calls for the PCA to withdraw from NAPARC, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.  Theme #3, specific means #4 states:

Means (Specific) #4: Partner with national and international ministries with whom we can most effectively participate in God’s Global Mission by: (a) seek union or appropriate levels of cooperation with Reformed movements making Gospel progress and in harmony with our ethos and goals; (b) withdraw from organizations with whom we share doctrinal history, but not ministry priorities, currently draining our ministry energies (e.g. NAPARC); (c) find new ways to give away our knowledge and resources to bodies of believers being spiritually blessed, [emphasis mine].

NAPARC is a group of churches that represent different denominations with whom the PCA has fraternal relations for the purpose of assisting one another for building the church of Jesus Christ rather than just focusing on individual denominations.  This group represents those with whom the PCA shares the same doctrinal heritage and represents the truest of fellowship and ecumenicism.  These are the guys who are standing with us.  These are the guys with whom we can participate in clear conscience in church planting and missions because we know they believe what we believe.  The reason stated for withdrawal is that even though they do share this doctrinal history, they don’t share the PCA’s ministry priorities.  Because of this, the strategy says that NAPARC is draining the PCA’s resources, so to be more effective in planting reformed churches and doing world-wide reformed missions, the plan says we need to stop participating with the other reformed bodies who are striving do the same.  What priorities aren’t the same?  In essence, by withdrawing, it would appear that we are limiting ourselves in ministry. 

Unless, by withdrawing from those with whom we share a doctrinal heritage, we join in with groups with whom we don’t.  Is there a move here to be aligned with non-reformed groups to accomplish reformed evangelism, church-planting and foreign missions for the sake of having greater “influence and growth.”  What will we be growing?  There is already a serious issue in the PCA with the use of non-reformed worship practices and non-reformed church growth strategies.  Will we now just go ahead and join in the work of the  groups whose methods have already been adopted?  According to Theme #3, the answer is yes.  The strategy would prefer the PCA learn from and work with the non-Reformed and the Reformed not part of NAPARC.  Which is interesting, given that there are no conservative churches in North America that are not part of NAPARC.  So who are these Reformed groups?  Who is it that makes up the “global church”?

O.k., so this has already gone much longer than originally intended, so I will stop for now.  But these two issues are very important.  The strategy calls for the PCA as a Presbyterian and Reformed church to pursue evangelism, church planting and missions in a non-Presbyterian fashion that centralizes power and to do so by no longer participating with other conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  So, the strategy seems to suggest that the PCA needs to develop a less Reformed, maybe even, non-Reformed identity in order to do Reformed ministry.

Now, please don’t come away from this thinking that the whole thing is bad and awful and the plague.  But, on the big picture, I am very concerned.  For critiques that deal with more specific details, you can read here and here.

The next step is for the “Strategic Plan” to be brought to the floor at GA.  It will be interesting to see what the PCA decides to say about herself by her vote.