There were four significant issues that the 40th GA in Louisville dealt with: withdrawal from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an overture to pass an in thesi statement on the creation of Adam, a BCO amendment to ban the practice of intinction, and a recommendation from the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) to approve as satisfactory the allowable exception of paedocommunion by one minister in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. I will describe each of these and comment on them serially in successive posts.
Overture 12 of the 39th GA to withdraw from the NAE
This overture actually came to last year’s GA from Central Carolina Presbytery. Last year the GA voted to recommit the overture to the GA’s permanent committee on Interchurch Relations (IRC) to study the matter and give an opportunity for churches and presbyteries to weigh in. I actually served as secretary on this year’s GA committee of commissioners (CoC) that dealt with this overture before it came to the floor. The rationale given by those in support of leaving the NAE was twofold: 1. These men are uncomfortable with some of the statements made by the governmental relations wing of the NAE. Some of these statements had what some perceived as politically left leaning overtones, and thus they opposed them being blanket statements of the NAE membership; and 2. Other men also opposed our involvement in the NAE based on their view of the church, specifically, that the church should never make any political statement, regardless of the ideology or issue supported. Ultimately both the CoC and the GA supported our remaining in the NAE (sorry for all the acronyms!).
In my opinion, this is a very good thing. We as the PCA are already a very small portion of Christ’s Church (350,000 or so out of over 2 billion). This is a drop in the ocean, my friends. If we are to take seriously the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, a prayer he prayed as he himself was facing death, that we all be one even as he and his Father are one, then we absolutely must take the visible unity of the church seriously. We know that Jesus was praying about the visible and not the mystical unity of the church because in his very next breath he prays that all unbelievers would see our unity and come to know him. How can unbelievers see the mystical unity of the invisible church? That is only a concept, not a physical manifestation. No, Jesus was praying for our visible unity.
Furthermore, this idea that the theological principle of the “Spirituality of the Church,” which includes a belief that the church should never speak on any political issue, is not one which I or many of my PCA brethren agree with. It is manifestly absurd to say that the church cannot or should not speak on any political issue. There are certainly issues that deal directly with morality and justice that the church can and should speak to. I honestly have a very hard time understanding the rationale of some brothers who say that the church shouldn’t speak for laws against abortion, slavery, prostitution, pornography, divorce, pedophilia, and many others. If the church will not speak to these issues in the public square, who will?
For these reasons, and for the reason that the NAE does so much more good than just a few possibly politically offensive statements concerning public policy, I believe that our remaining in the NAE is very good. We are already an isolated backwater of world Christianity. We have this opinion of ourselves in the PCA that we are very important, but let’s face it brothers, we are not. At this GA we heard from representatives from both the Brazilian Presbyterian Church and one of the Korean Presbyterian churches. Both these churches measure their numbers in the millions, while we measure ours in the thousands. Of the other fraternal delegates we heard from, all of which were based in the US, we heard reports of membership that were 8,000 souls, 25,000 souls, and so on. Friends, the Reformed church in the United States has a sickness. We need to learn to bear with each other in love and to begin to do as Christ commanded and be one. We need to repent of our sectarian ways and our bent toward division and discord. The Lord Jesus is not pleased with us right now. Let us heed his dying wish.
Here is the prayer that I composed and prayed on the floor of this year’s GA during the report of the Interchurch Relations Committee:
Heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ, when he faced death,
Prayed that the church would be one, even as He and You are one.
We pray you so to unite your holy, catholic, and apostolic church,
That all unbelievers would see our unity and love for each other,
And would come to a saving knowledge of you through your Son, Jesus Christ.
We pray in the name of the same, your Son, our Lord,
Who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, one Lord, over one Church,
Now and forever.