Our denomination, the PCA, held its 38th annual General Assembly three weeks ago in Nashville, TN. In addition to the encouragement of meeting with old and new friends and partners in the gospel, we heard encouraging reports from all of the PCA’s ministries and agencies. It was particularly encouraging to hear how they are growing in their work despite the economy over the past year. The Lord is working in and through our denomination, and through the other denominations and ministries with whom we work, all over the world. It is always good to be reminded of that and awesome to see how God is building his kingdom across the world.
This year’s assembly, however, was consumed with the latest installment of our strategic plan. Basically, the PCA has been developing a strategic plan since the year 2000, with the main installment in 2006. That plan resulted in the formation of a committee of the leaders of the various committees and agencies of the denomination that would further develop and implement a plan. This year that committee presented an update to the plan. It was presented without any reference to the prior plan or framework for understanding how this plan fits in with anything else. It had no background or foundation presented from Scripture or our confessional standards. It came out of nowhere and was released only two months prior to the meeting. Then major changes were made two days before we voted on it, without releasing the changes to the Assembly (only by rumor and the Internet were the changes known).
In addition to these issues, the plan itself was based on a sociological analysis of the (perceived) loss of members in the PCA and the need to be more relevant to our culture. Unfortunately, no actual data was presented to back up these assumptions and no real analysis was put forth. Then a series of goals and “means” to accomplish these goals were presented. These centered around having more room for discussion of theological differences; more representation from and leadership opportunities for women, younger adults, and minorities; and more joining with other Christians wherever God is working, with less regard for theological distinctives than in the past.
Before, during, and after General Assembly, the plan polarized and divided many in the PCA. The plan was developed in large measure by those who might be called progressives, and the plan garnered widespread support among those who lean that way. The plan was generally opposed by those who might be called conservatives. For every aspect of the plan, voting was split about 60-40%, with most aspects of the plan being approved at General Assembly.
An alternative plan was proposed by our friends in the Northwest Georgia Presbytery. That plan was published in our newsletter a few weeks ago. It garnered widespread support among many in the PCA. That plan was rejected in committee and never made it to the Assembly as an alternative plan; however, it was voted on as a reaffirmation of what we believe. Some believe this to have been a good thing, and others believe it simply to be a meaningless concession by the supporters of the strategic plan to those opposed. The vote for this statement of what we believe was almost unanimous, in sharp contrast to the divided votes on the strategic plan.
In a separate part of the plan, a new funding mechanism was proposed in which churches would be required to pay a fee every year to the denomination, based on membership, in order to have a vote at General Assembly. (Currently, churches pay a registration fee for every elder and pastor attending.) During the presentation of this plan, however, it was revealed that the funding requirement would be cumulative, i.e., a church has to pay every year even if not sending someone to General Assembly, and a church would have to pay previous year’s unpaid fees in order to stay current. This language, too, was added at the last minute and then presented to the Assembly. Even some members of the committee overseeing this were unaware of this new requirement. It, too, was hotly debated and passed by a narrow margin.
Lastly, on a more encouraging note, we voted to strengthen our constitution to clearly state that the office of deacon is an ordained office open to men only; and several presbyteries, including ours, were cited for violating our constitution in regards to women and the diaconate.
What do all these things really mean and how should we think about them? Read part 2 next week!