Before this small stream of churches leaving the PCA becomes more like a large river, I would like to put forth an alternative to my brothers and sisters in the PCA. For those who think the day is past, just consider that it may not be too late to recapture the PCA. It is time to take action! In the future we may look back and say we lost, but it is better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all.
From the headlines I read from various sources (including “Wither the Presbyterian Church in America,” The Aquila Report), it would appear that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is in decline theologically and in other areas. The influence of the new politics of gender-identity social theory is trying to sweep across the denomination. This includes both accepting the legitimacy of homosexual and transgender identities.
History teaches us that such movements tend to begin in denominational seminaries and colleges. From Princeton Seminary in the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA) to Union (Richmond) Seminary in the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUS), denominational-supported schools seem to be points of origin. New ideas from such schools soon capture the hierarchy of their denominations, which almost guarantees the demise of the churches. As Solomon said, there is really nothing new under the sun.
Some presbyteries in the PCA have responded to what is happening, but as of yet there have been only a few attempts at disciplinary cases challenging faulty and aberrant views. Typically, conservatives or confessionalists just throw up their hands and leave the denomination. Their modus operandi seems to exercise BCO 25-11 and leave by a majority vote of the local congregation. BCO 25-11 is their safe-harbor net.
I was ordained in the former PCUS before there was a PCA. Having been a member of the PCA since 1973, and having been a signatory of the original PCA charter document, needless to say, I have seen the same type of theological and ministry drift before.
It was difficult for me to leave the denomination of my childhood and ordination. However, once when I was a member of Abingdon Presbytery of the PCUS, I was told by the moderator of the Presbytery meeting that I would not be allowed to speak anymore from the floor on that particular day. I was challenging ministerial candidates on their view from Genesis 1-3 whether Adam was a real and historical man. At the time, by being essentially silenced although a member in good standing, it was clear to me I had been disciplined and censored by the Presbytery and had reason to leave.
As I survey the present landscape in the PCA, I acknowledge that it is nowhere close to what I lived through in the PCUS. The circumstances then were quite dire; I am glad that the PCA is not at the same place at this time, but it does appears to be moving in a dangerous direction.
The PCA is not a hierarchical church. Its power, on paper at least, is vested in local congregations and presbyteries. As a whole, most of her local churches and the majority of her presbyteries are still faithful to the Reformed Faith, and not influenced by gender-identity social theory and its correlates.
A number of churches have already withdrawn from the PCA over these issues, and others are contemplating withdrawing at the present time. Before this small stream of churches leaving the PCA becomes more like a large river, I would like to put forth an alternative to my brothers and sisters in the PCA. For those who think the day is past, just consider that it may not be too late to recapture the PCA. It is time to take action! In the future we may look back and say we lost, but it is better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all.
Let me list seven things that I think need to be front and center:
- First of all, for those considering withdrawing from the PCA, paradise is not just across the river. I have watched a number of men and churches leave the PCA thinking they were going to the Promised Land, who discovered later on that it was not the Promised Land after all. Some of the early exits out of the PCA started their own denomination. Since that time, they have split a few more times.
- There are different views as to when to leave a denomination. Those like me, believe that a Christian should not leave until he is disciplined or excommunicated. I think men like Martin Luther and J. Gresham Machen belong in this category, too. I often think of the impact that those who left the PCA years ago could have had on our denomination if they had remained in the PCA. We lost some powerful theologians and mighty voices.
- The PCA was a grassroots movement from the beginning. As I interact with men and women in the PCA, I believe that the grassroots foundation has not changed. It still has a sure footing. I communicate with PCA ruling elders who are livid at what they hear. The heart and soul of the denomination is not in its hierarchy or in the General Assembly (“The Presbyterian Church in America Is Non-hierarchal Presbyterianism” by L. Roy Taylor, Aquila Report, January 7, 2019). The life of the denomination is in the local church and most of them have not bought into the changes that are taking place.
- This does not mean that the PCA General Assembly should be neglected. Local churches should take pains to send both ruling and teaching elders to the Assembly. Pre-assembly meetings by those with a different agenda cannot win the day when the numbers favor those unhappy with the changes being pushed upon them. It is indeed still a numbers game.
- The PCA should sever its ties with Covenant Theological Seminary. There is presently an Overture from Northwest Georgia Presbytery (The Aquila Report, October 16, 2018) requesting that this be done. Covenant Seminary should follow the example of schools like Westminster and Reformed Seminaries and learn to compete in the free-market where financial support does not depend on ties with a denomination, but upon the quality and views of men that teach at and graduate from that Seminary. As I said, denominational seminaries are often the points of origin of errant views, and history teaches us that this relationship needs to be broken.
- For those churches committing themselves toward this new wave of theology, it would be very easy for them to transfer to The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), or The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). Ministers can easily move and churches can leave with their property.
- But we need to talk more first. Maybe we need to wait in due course for the matters to be considered by the courts of the Church. Presbyterian courts are notoriously slow, but there are things that can be done right now.
The PCA has been a major part of my life. I don’t want to give up on her yet. She is too important to many others as well. She has been an important testimony to other denominations and to the world during the last 46 years. I pray that she still has many more years left as a significant leader in the evangelical and Reformed world.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.