>"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!”

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>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.