I was afraid that the Assembly would appoint a Study Committee on Biblical Sexual Ethics without making any statement at all regarding the issue of same-sex attraction. Sometimes to delay is to lose. So it was in the situation. Without such a statement, the Assembly would have been a major disappointment to me and would have greatly harmed the Church. The declaration that the Nashville Statement is a faithful declaration of biblical principles was needed.
Both positive and negative comments have lighted up the social media relating to the recent 47th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in Dallas, Texas. In the United States everyone has a right to his opinion, and thanks to social media everyone now has a right to make that opinion public. The comments range from calling the PCA deplorable to a hope and optimism about the PCA. Some comments on social media are worth more than others. In my opinion, some are actually misleading.
I was not able to attend the Assembly but watched it live from my computer sitting at home. The remote voting overture before the Assembly which originated with me via Westminster Presbytery was defeated, so I guess I will not be voting from home any time soon.
Even though I was not part of any committee of commissioners, and by being absent I could not pick up on many of the nuances when men gather together in person, I did watch the assembly sessions live and have read many of the pertinent documents available to the public.
Since the beginning of the PCA I have attended a good number of General Assembly meetings. I have never attended a meeting where I considered every vote a victory for either me or the Church. This Assembly was no exception.
Admittedly, there were a few disappointing moments in the Assembly. I was particularly disappointed with the handclapping following the speech of TE Greg Johnson. This was poor decorum on the part of many in the Assembly. It was disrespectful of those who took issue with Mr. Johnson’s statements. A stronger rebuke by the Moderator was in order.
I was also disappointed in the protest against Mr. Warhurst of Westminster Presbytery. I thought in his presentation he was very cautious in his tone. His reference to deception at the Revoice Conference did not have to be interpreted as judging the hearts of the participants, but rather could have easily been taken as a reference to the spiritual warfare in the broader church instigated by Satan himself.
Ultimately though, what matters are the decisions made by the Assembly. Looking at the Assembly from this perspective, I was actually very encouraged. For example, I was afraid that the Assembly would appoint a Study Committee on Biblical Sexual Ethics without making any statement at all regarding the issue of same-sex attraction. Sometimes to delay is to lose. So it was in the situation. Without such a statement, the Assembly would have been a major disappointment to me and would have greatly harmed the Church. The declaration that the Nashville Statement is a faithful declaration of biblical principles was needed. It should be noted that the Assembly voted for this, even after Mr. Johnson addressed his objection.
The Nashville Statement contains in Article Seven a statement that states it is unbiblical for a Christian “to adopt a homosexual or transgender self-conception.” Since the legitimacy of using terms like “sexual orientation” or “gay-Christian” is at the focus of this debate, the Assembly made a clear statement on this issue.
The vote on the Nashville Statement was 803-501, but observers should note that many of the negative votes were cast not because men were against the Nashville Statement, but rather because they believed it was not strong enough, or it did not contain biblical references. A sixty-forty split is not a dependable way to assess the mind of the Assembly.
The Assembly also transferred to Constitutional status the Book of Church Order statement that ministers who solemnize marriage in the PCA shall “only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.”
In addition, the Assembly commended for study and distribution the document developed by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA) on “Contemporary Perspectives on Human Sexuality” which refutes popular pro-homosexual exegesis of various biblical passages.
The Assembly once again defeated an attempt to allow women (non-ordained members) the right to sit and vote on permanent boards and agencies. This has been before the Assembly previously and no doubt will come again. But it was good to see the Assembly stand its ground on this issue.
There is a war going on in the PCA for her heart and soul, but too many traditional conservatives (for want of a better term) have lost sight of the long-term war and expect total victory at one individual Assembly. They have no patience. They are ready to leave the PCA. They should take to heart that the difficulty encountered in one battle does not mean we have lost the war. If any military general had such a mind-set, he would be quickly dismissed by his superiors. If Lincoln had surrendered in the Civil War after Manassas he would have been a fool.
There are several good reasons for optimism for the future of the PCA. First, it should be recognized how the Southern Baptist Convention turned around the direction of that part of God’s Church. The same is not beyond reach in the PCA.
Secondly, I was encouraged to see major leaders in the PCA from large churches speak in favor of the Nashville Statement. In this list I include men like Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Ligon Duncan of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, Kevin DeYoung of Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Richard Phillips of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
Thirdly, I continue to plead with leaders and churches in the PCA not to leave the denomination. We need you. Next year the Assembly will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, in the southeastern United States. This is a stronghold of traditional conservativism in the PCA. It is within a day’s driving distance for many elders who represent the old theological paths, and this location may allow them to attend the meeting with minimal expense. Churches should be setting aside funds in their 2020 Budget for their attendance.
At the 48th General Assembly next year, many of these issues will come up again. Remember, there is victory in numbers. This does not sound very spiritual, but in church courts, it is true. I pray that many ruling and teaching elders who seldom attend General Assembly meetings will show up next year to help the PCA hold the line against new theological directions and practices that could eventually change the PCA. This may be the only way to recapture the PCA as a Church faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.