The 46th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Dear Willow Creek Church Family:
The 46th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was, in my estimation, one of the warmest and most efficient assemblies in recent history. This was, in no small part, due to the effective leadership of Stated Clerk, L. Roy Taylor, and this year's moderator, Rev. Irwyn Ince.
I've prepared the following to provide a brief overview of this year's General Assembly for those interested in this important work of our denomination. Some of the vernacular might be new or confusing to you. If so, you're not alone. It takes a time for even pastors to learn and understand the multifaceted work of our denomination. Feel free to forward any questions to me by email. I'll do my best to answer them.
Noteworthy occurrences and decisions
Committees of Commissioners held their meetings throughout the day. These discussed aspects of the work of our denomination, later sharing reports to the Assembly. A list of PCA committees follows:
Committee on Discipleship Ministries
Covenant Theological Seminary
Mission to North America
Mission to the World
Reformed University Ministries
PCA Retirement & Benefits, Inc.
The Pre-Assembly Prayer Gathering on Tuesday evening was well-attended and enjoyed by most commissioners, though a few raised pointed objections to the content of some of the gathering's prayers.
A series of topical seminars were offered on Wednesday morning. A list of the offerings may be found here.
Committees of Commissioners continued their meetings as necessary. These included meetings of the Theological Examining Committee, the Committee on Constitutional Business, and the Board of Directors of the Administrative Committee.
The 46th General Assembly opened with worship, and a sermon preached by outgoing moderator, Alexander Jun, the first Asian-American moderator in the history of the PCA. With expressions of thanks to Ruling Elder (RE) Jun, Teaching Elder (TE) Irwyn Ince was unanimously elected as moderator of the 46th General Assembly, and celebrated with a standing ovation. TE Ince is the first African-American moderator in the history of the PCA. Standard procedures and administrative details (establishment of quorum, appointment of Committee of Thanks, appointment of assistant parliamentarians, etc.) were then fulfilled.
L. Roy Taylor shared the Stated Clerk's Report. Among other observations and reports, he shared that the PCA continues a pattern of growth, though not as robust as its early years.
The Committee of Commissioners on Interchurch Relations shared a series of reports from denominations with whom we share "fraternal relations." These were done by video this year. In my view, this is a highlight of General Assembly every year; this year was no exception. The report serves as a powerful reminder that the PCA is part of a truly global and diverse gospel movement.
An especially enjoyable moment occurred during the presentation of our sister denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA). My friend, President Jerry O'Neil of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (my alma mater), brought greetings. He'll "retire" at the end of this month after decades of important work advancing the RPCNA and its seminary.
The Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) Committee began its report, seeking omnibus approval. However, due to a request from the floor, the sections pertaining to Calvary Presbytery and Georgia Foothills Presbytery were removed for separate consideration. Due to a dinner recess for the evening, this happened on Thursday morning.
The General Assembly enjoyed and benefitted from an excellent and Assembly-wide seminar led by members of the Racial Reconciliation Study Committee.
The recommendations of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation were accepted in omnibus.
Discussion of the RPR recommendations pertaining to Calvary Presbytery and Georgia Foothills Presbytery occurred on the floor, but both were ultimately approved. Regarding the latter, several elders formally recorded their objections to the report and/or actions of Georgia Foothills Presbytery, with some calling openly for new procedures in handling cases of alleged abuse. One presbyter spoke for many in expressing sorrow and offering an apology to the woman whose case was allegedly mishandled by the lower court.
The Cooperative Ministries Committee presented its report.
The Committee on Constitutional Business presented its report.
The Theological Examining Committee presented its report.
The Nominating Committee presented its report, with elections to various committees held. New Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) members were installed.
The SJC presented its report.
The Overtures Committee presented its report. Perhaps most notable among these were the Assembly's decision to approve Overture 24, "Grant BCO-59 Solemnization of Marriage (as Amended) Full Constitutional Status," and answer Overtures 1, 2, and 5 with reference to 24 by a vote of 764-12-7. The Assembly also voted against the inclusion of non-ordained members on denominational boards and agencies. A full list of Assembly actions regarding overtures can be found here.
The Committees of Commissioners presented their reports (see list of committees above, under Tuesday's business). Perhaps most notable, at least to some, were the remarks of President Mark Dalbey of Covenant Theological Seminary regarding the upcoming Revoice Conference. These were very similar to a joint statement from President Dalbey and the faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary earlier this month, and available here.
The 46th General Assembly continued with a worship service, including a sermon by TE Joe Novenson.
With its business concluded, the 46th General Assembly concluded with a worship service, including a sermon by TE Randy Pope.
I'm still processing and praying over the many events and decisions of the 46th General Assembly, but can confidently say that it was a very encouraging gathering. I cite five different sources of particular encouragement.
We are an increasingly diverse denomination. Not only in its leadership, but also in its composition, the PCA is slowly growing to better reflect our increasingly diverse nation and its communities. There is much, much work left to do, but it seems appropriate to celebrate the Spirit's leading and God's blessing to date. Our previous two moderators hopefully signal even greater manifestations of the reconciling work of God.
We are blessed with competent and mature leadership. As previously mentioned, the leadership of our Stated Clerk, L. Roy Taylor, and newly elected Moderator, TE Irwyn Ince, was spectacular. They were clear and concise, yet warm and at times even humorous. The "floor leadership" of TE Coffin, TE Larry Hoop, RE Howie Donahoe, TE Fred Greco, and others helped many (including me) cut through the clutter, so to speak, toward clearer thinking on the matters before the Assembly. Add to these names elders and ministers like Derek Halverson, Bruce O'Neil, Sean Lucas, Mike Khandjian, and so many more, and one has ample reason for encouragement.
As an aside, I also enjoy the beautiful lack of ecclesiastical 'celebrities' in our denomination. At one point, I shared an elevator with a very noteworthy, national leader. Although friendly toward all, he spent the ride and its floor-by-floor waits talking with the small children on board. He's a remarkably busy and influential pastor, seminary professor, movement leader, and now denominational committee member, but he didn't seem preoccupied with that or himself. Although anecdotal, I saw that sort of behavior repeated among some of our leading voices time and time again.
We have provisions within our system for the problems we face. Although the question of non-ordained involvement, especially that of women, in our denomination's committees and institutional boards was not answered to everyone's satisfaction this year, I take comfort that our elders and presbyteries will come together to pray and plan for its continuing consideration according to the Scriptures. Our Presbyterian church government is a powerful mechanism for the Spirit's steady, deliberate work. I pray that the difficult issues raised by TE Lecroy and others surrounding our procedures and approach to issues of abuse will also benefit from this prayerful process. I expect some great proposals for next year's gathering.
We're a fundamentally united denomination. Although there are many affinity groups of sorts within the PCA, and plenty of snarky (and usually anonymous) commentators on social media, I did not sense a factious spirit prevailing among those gathered in Atlanta this past weekend. There was often robust debate on the floor, but - with only a couple exceptions - it remained temperate and gracious.
We're ready to change because of, not despite, the truth of God's Word. Although some openly worry that recent developments within the PCA signal a trend toward liberalism, I find that completely unwarranted. This year's affirmations regarding marriage, discussions concerning the involvement of non-ordained individuals on denominational committees and boards, etc. all evidence a denomination concerned with maintaining its Scriptural rudder rather than simply filling its sails with the prevailing winds of culture.
Until next year,