The Fight for the Culture is Taking Place in the Church

An overview of the PCA’s 2019 General Assembly

Three years ago, much of the debate at GA focused on racial reconciliation. Last year, it was the role of women in the church. This year, it will likely be homosexuality and the Revoice movement, which is being hotly debated in the PCA and Southern Baptist Convention. Although sexual abuse and the “Me Too” movement is also in the mix and the role of women in the church is back for more debate. Plus, the debate over “social justice” is always lurking in the background.

 

Like the culture around it, the Presbyterian Church in America has been facing a fair amount of turmoil for some time now. Some of this usually shows up at the PCA’s General Assembly, the annual gathering of PCA elders (teaching and ruling). This year’s event, coming up this week in Dallas, promises more of the same.

Three years ago, much of the debate at GA focused on racial reconciliation. Last year, it was the role of women in the church. This year, it will likely be homosexuality and the Revoice movement, which is being hotly debated in the PCA and Southern Baptist Convention. Although sexual abuse and the “Me Too” movement is also in the mix and the role of women in the church is back for more debate. Plus, the debate over “social justice” is always lurking in the background.

Each year in General Assembly, its elders vote on a number of overtures, which are essentially petitions from presbyteries seeking to establish or clarify the PCA’s position on an issue. In some cases overtures are simply encouragements or general statements, but they can also lead to changes in the governing documents of the PCA. In either case, they reflect the direction our denomination is taking on specific issues and, more broadly, how we are doing when it comes to submitting to the authority of Scripture.

This year, the best I can tell, 48 overtures have been submitted for consideration, though not all of them may be voted on. Below I have tried to provide a summary of them that may be of interest to us lay folks. I do this because it is important for church members to be informed how our denomination is handling God’s Word, just as it is for Americans to do the same with our government. Which leads, as it also does in our democratic republic, to a responsibility for informed members to respond appropriately based on that knowledge. This dual similarity should not be a surprise because, though there are differences, the United States government is based on Presbyterian polity.

The results of the GA and the direction that the PCA is taking are important to more than just its members, though. Just watching the news tells the story that the culture war in the U.S. is being won by both cultural and theological liberalism. Though, to be clear, the battle is not over; it is still being engaged by Bible-believing Christians. The direction of the PCA, along with the SBC, may serve as leading indicators of the health of the orthodox church in the United States. If they were to submit to worldly wisdom, like numerous denominations before them, it becomes unclear what effect–absent another Great Awakening–the believing church will have on the culture in foreseeable future.

Here we go:

Homosexuality and Revoice–Overtures 4, 11, 22, 28, 30, 35, 37, 39, 42, 44, 45 The big debate over Revoice is whether it is possible to have simultaneous Christian and LGBTQ+ identities. Another way of describing the debate is whether homosexual orientation/desire is sinful and therefore must be mortified or if it is a natural inclination that can just be kept in check through celibacy. Some want to shift the focus of this debate on how to minister to people struggling with homosexuality. To settle this debate toward the side that homosexual identity/orientation is a sin, Overtures 4, 11 and 22 call for an endorsement of statements or reports from outside the official PCA governing structure. Overture 28 is similarly inclined, but calls on the PCA to adopt its own statement on homosexuality and gender. To the same end, Overture 35 asks the PCA to reaffirm its previous actions and declarations on this issue. Overture 37 takes a similar view toward homosexual orientation but a slightly softer view than some might toward Revoice. Overture 39 takes a less definitive approach with its encouragement to reaffirm a statement from the RPCES, which subsequently joined the PCA. Overtures 30, 42, 44, and 45 all call for the GA to establish an ad interim study committee on human sexuality. The perspective of these overtures differs from the previous overtures and call for “the church … to take a fresh and honest look at itself, assessing where and how it has too often failed to demonstrate Christian integrity with regard to its care for Same Sex Attracted believers, and where [it] can grow.”

Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault–Overtures 7, 10, 13, 20, 26, 31, 38, 43, 47
All of these overtures call for the establishment of a PCA committee on sexual abuse and domestic assault, in some cases noting “these sins are especially heinous because they are ‘against the express letter of the law,’ ‘break many commandments,’ ‘admit of no reparation,’ and often involve various other aggravations.” The motivation behind these overtures appears to stem largely from the fallout of the Me Too movement and the related problems the SBC is currently facing. Opposition to these overtures may come from two directions. The first is that there are no indications that sexual abuse is a widespread problem in the PCA. The second is that establishing centralized committees runs afoul of the PCA’s grassroots design. If it does become clear that the PCA has a problem in this area, the PCA’s overture process provides a way for presbyteries to provide leadership in dealing with it.

Role of Women in the Church–Overtures 8, 14, 19, 21, 29, 32, 40, 41
Five of these overtures (8, 14, 19, 21, and 32) are identical, asking the PCA to allow women (and unordained males) to serve on the permanent committees and agencies of the PCA. This is not a new proposal; it has been rejected by the PCA as recently as last year: “The Committees and Boards of Agencies of the General Assembly of the PCA exercise ruling authority in the Church as they implement and execute the one work of the Church at the General Assembly level. Such power ought to remain in the hands of ordained officers of the Church.” Overture 29, now withdrawn, had sought to “allow local sessions to decide whether women can be allowed to serve as deacons.” Overture 40 wishes “women leaders be authorized to select and appoint the officers of their Women in the Church [previously known as WIC, or more recently “Women’s Ministry”] with the laying on of hands to serve in the local church and assist the deacons in caring for those in need and distress.” Taking a different direction, Overture 41 would ensure that only “ordained elders will be allowed to serve in the roles of team leader, regional director, and international director within Mission to the World.”

A Stronger Statement Regarding Abortion–Overtures 46 and 48Overture 46 would “reaffirm our denomination’s commitment on this pertinent, prevalent issue regarding the sanctity of life and our stance against abortion in particular” because 1) “the sin of abortion continues to be a common practice in our culture despite political and religious efforts to outlaw, restrict, and prevent it” and 2) “our Confession of Faith indicates that it is proper and necessary for synods, ‘…by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary…’ (WCF 31:4) to address matters which pertain to the civil magistrate.” Overture 48 calls on the GA and the PCA to “make a stronger statement regarding abortion.” Among other things, the stronger statement includes “that all who participate in the practice of abortion, including mothers, for any reason other than to save the physical life of the mother, are guilty of complicity in heinous sin, and subject to the severe judgment of God unless they repent and seek His forgiveness.”

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