Dear Church Family,
Before the General Assembly of the PCA met in Birmingham, AL, last week, I provided a brief summary of the business that was to be conducted, along with some recommendations for things to look for: https://hillcountrypca.org/pca-2022-49th-general-assembly/. I was not able to attend the General Assembly; however, I did follow much of the events via the virtual livestream and have read several summary reports.
The official summary report of the actions of the General Assembly may be found at the online magazine of the PCA, byFaith: https://byfaithonline.com/byfaith-report-actions-of-the-49th-pca-general-assembly/. There’s a lot there and it might be hard to wade through all of that information. So, here are five things that I think you should know about from this year’s General Assembly.
Five Major “Take-Aways” from General Assembly
In 2019, the General Assembly approved a study committee to look into the issue of domestic abuse and sexual assault. This was not an investigative report into allegations of abuse in the denomination; rather, the report was intended to be an in-depth study of how the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards define abuse, and to provide churches with advice concerning best practices in dealing with domestic abuse and sexual assault.
This 220-page report is both theological and practical, and is available online here: https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/2301-AIC-on-Domestic-Abuse-Updated.pdf.
This report is well done and well received. I believe it will be a great help for sessions and churches.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states that church synods and councils “are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the common wealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary.” (WCF 31.5) In keeping with this biblical admonition, the General Assembly approved, without objection, the following statement regarding abortion (this was approved the day before the Supreme Court decision repealing Roe v. Wade):
“God declares in Sacred Scripture that civil government, no less than the Church, is a divine institution and owes its authority to God. The Bible is the supreme revelation of God’s will and teaches that the unborn child is a human person deserving the full protection of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder”. We who love our nation, in the name of God who alone is sovereign, call upon you to renounce the sin of abortion, to repent of the complicity in the mass slaughter of innocent unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God, and to reverse the ruinous direction of both law and practice in this area. The obedience to God which places us in subjection to your rightful authority, requires of us to proclaim the counsel of God as it bears upon the same God-given authority.”
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was founded in 1942 as a coalition of evangelical Christian churches and organizations. The PCA joined the NAE in 1986; however, over the last 10-15 years, there has been growing concern among pastors and elders regarding our denominational affiliation with the NAE. Specifically, the concern is our denomination’s association with an organization that has become increasingly politically minded and more broadly accepting in its moral stances.
At the PCA’s General Assembly last week, our denomination voted to withdraw from the NAE by a vote of 1030-699. You may read the official overture, along with the reasoning, here: https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Overture-3-Pee-Dee-to-49th-GA.pdf.
For my part, I believe that it was a good decision for our denomination to withdraw from the NAE. This does not mean that individuals Christians and local churches may not work together and fellowship with Christians and churches that are not Reformed; however, it simply removes our official denominational association with this very broad group of churches which have become more politically and socially minded. We are still a member of the National Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (NAPARC), with whom we have great affinity – https://www.naparc.org/directories-2/.
Of the many overtures which were debated and voted upon at the General Assembly, two were related to the qualifications for church office, particularly as to how the thinking about these qualifications has been affected by the influence of the LGBTQ-affirming agenda of our culture. The following to proposed amendments to our Book of Church Order (BCO) were approved by the General Assembly, one by a large majority and the other by a small majority. According to BCO 26.2, in order for these amendments to the BCO to be approved, two more things must happen: Two-thirds of the presbyteries must approve them in the coming year and the General Assembly in 2023 must approve them by a simple majority again.
Here are the two proposed amendments along with the vote totals from the General Assembly:
(a) Overture 29 to add a new paragraph to the Book of Church Order, Chapter 16, “Church Orders – The Doctrine of Vocation” was approved by a vote of 1922-200:
“16-4 Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. While office bearers will see spiritual perfection only in glory, they will continue in this life to confess and to mortify remaining sins in light of God’s work of progressive sanctification. Therefore, to be qualified for office, they must affirm the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, and be committed to the pursuit of Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions.”
(b) Overture 15 to add a new paragraph to the Book of Church Order, Chapter 7 – “Church Officers – General Classification” was approved by a vote of 1167-978:
“7-4 Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”
It remains to be seen how these amendments will proceed through the presbytery votes and then next year’s General Assembly, but the approval of these two amendments to our BCO is a move in the right direction and very encouraging for our denomination.
Finally, I encourage you to watch (or listen) to the sermon from the Thursday night worship service. The preacher was Kevin DeYoung who preached from 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 – “God’s Gift of New Eyes and a New Identity.”
You may find the sermon at the following link, beginning at marker 27:35: https://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/events/10498374/videos/231776042.
The wheels of Presbyterian polity grind slowly. That can be frustrating, but it also is a safe guard against radical change; it makes sure, as much as possible, that the work of the church is done in good order and discipline. Please pray for our churches, our presbyteries, and our denomination as we seek to continue to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch