As laity, we are limited in our ability to change the PCA through its official structure, e.g., the church courts, General Assembly, etc. So, whether we think the fire of the world’s attacks on the church is currently turning the PCA into gold or dross, it is important that we participate in the maturation and purification of the church catholic through the polity of our local church. Which means, in part, showing the world how spirited debate and representation under our local, representative church government is supposed to work; which will fully work only if elders embrace the PCA’s grassroots design.
Part I: Introduction
Those of us in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have seen denomination after denomination, including our previous denomination—the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), succumb to the attacks of raging nations (Psalm 2) on the church. And no matter what the points of attack have been, be it justification by faith or the social gospel, the underlying failure in all the church’s defeats has been the failure to stand on the authority of Scripture.
Strangely enough, many of the greatest failures of the church to stand on the authority of Scripture have been by those denominations that claimed the most authority for the church itself. This, of course, was the problem with a Catholic Church that elevated its authority over God’s Word. And, thus, over God Himself.
Many other denominations that have fallen in recent decades, Episcopalians, Methodists, and some of the Lutherans, also have had a hierarchical polity focuses on the authority within the church rather than on the authority of God. Even the PCUS, with a more representative polity, fell into an autocratic mode with centralized authority residing in a few.
As Presbyterians, we affirm that our form of church polity is the biblical design for Christ’s church and “essential to the perfection of the church.” Part of that biblical design is the representational, grassroots nature of the PCA with wisdom flowing both up and down. It “is representative because the people choose their spiritual leaders to govern the church (its members and officers) on the local, regional, and national levels. We practice mutual accountability and discipline through our representative government.” The PCA’s grassroots polity was developed in the context of our founders experiencing “a decline in theological orthodoxy, a decline in discipline, and an abuse of ecclesiastical power” in the PCUS. As such, our founders made “a deliberate decision not to have a hierarchal, coercive system.”
Yet it is unclear whether the grassroots nature of the PCA is holding up very well under attack as we debate the six days of creation, LGBTQ+ Christianity, the Federal Vision, racism, etc. The attacks are no doubt part of God’s plan for the perfection of the church catholic. The question is whether the PCA is becoming gold or dross. In other words, are the decisions being made by the PCA’s General Assembly maturing the church or leading to surrender?
Whatever direction the General Assembly is headed, it is not clear that that direction reflects the beliefs of the majority of PCA elders and members. As L. Roy Taylor, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, notes, “As a representative system, the PCA system is susceptible to being manipulated by a minority that knows the system, is willing to participate in the system, capitalizes on the most influential aspects of the system, and is willing to be involved for the long term.”
This context helps frame why widespread, spirited debate among the members (laity) of the PCA, conducted it in a manner pleasing to Christ, is important for shaping the future of the PCA.
I’ve quoted from four works in this series. They are:
Issues Facing PCA by L. Roy Taylor
“Presbyterianism” by L. Roy Taylor, Chapter 2 in Who Runs the Church edited by Paul Engle
The Uniqueness of PCA Polity by L. Roy Taylor, the Stated Clerk of the PCA