>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.

"Evangelism" – New Horizons February 2009


This month’s issue of New Horizons looks at evangelism from a self-consciously reformed and ecclesial perspective:

  1. Are You Ready to Give a Reason? by Gary W. Davenport
  2. The Church’s Evangelistic Mission by L. Anthony Curto
  3. Developing Outreach and Evangelism Ministries
    by The Committee on Home Missions