Normally either I or a ruling elder would write a report on the PCA’s General Assembly, but pastor Jason Helopoulos has done such a fine job that I don’t think I could improve upon it. So, read and be encouraged about our denomination. And please continue to pray.
General Assembly 2011 Report
Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Moderator: Daniel Carrell was elected as this year’s moderator. He is a ruling elder from Stony Point Reformed Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA. He practices law in Richmond and has been a leader in the James River Presbytery and the General Assembly for years.
Numbers: The PCA increased in churches and mission churches from 1,740 in 2010 to 1,757 in 2011. There were 10,803 professions of faith in this past year. The membership of the PCA increased by 414 individuals to 346,814. The number of family units in the PCA saw an increase of 2,033 to 137,263. In 2010 the PCA will have 657 long term missionaries, 113 two year term missionaries, 323 intern missionaries, and 5,436 two week missionaries. RUF grew this past year to 135 campuses in 36 states and 58 presbyteries.
Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly
1. The General Assembly voted to organize a study committee on the practices of the Insider Movement. This “Movement” has advocated and implemented a strategy of Bible translation which replaces references to Jesus as “Son” with terms such as “Messiah” and references to God as “Father” with terms such as “Guardian” or “Lord.” The aim of these translators is to make such translations more acceptable to Muslims. It was clear through the Assembly’s debate and action that there is a strong aversion to this movement.
2. Paedocommunion became a topic of discussion at this year’s General Assembly and a firm stance was taken against the teaching of it. The Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) has the responsibility to review the minutes of the presbyteries in the PCA. The RPR expressed concern (our technical term is “noted an exception”) about the minutes of Pacific Northwest Presbytery. This Presbytery had ordained a man who affirmed paedocommunion and granted him the freedom to preach and teach this practice. By an overwhelming vote, the Assembly agreed with the RPR’s action and concern.
3. Another issue also came from the RPR. They sent a rule change to the Assembly proposing that ordinands (men being ordained to the office of Teaching Elder) be required to write their exceptions to the Westminster Standards in their own words. This rule change was approved by the General Assembly.
4. Each year there are a bevy of special days brought forward for observance. Each committee asks the Assembly to approve a certain Sunday as “Ridge Haven Day,” “Senior’s Day,” etc. This year the Assembly said “enough is enough.” It voted down a recommendation to anoint a particular Sunday “Ridge Haven Sunday” and a clear message was sent that Sundays just need to remain Sundays. The Lord’s Day is good enough.
5. Last year’s Assembly issues were the funding of the Administrative Committee (the “brain” of the PCA) and the Strategic Plan. The Administrative Funding plan failed in the Presbytery votes. Therefore, this year there were a number of Overtures and Communications sent to the General Assembly with alternative funding proposals and some overtures recommending the defunding of By Faith Magazine (the PCA’s denominational magazine). None of these overtures came to the floor of the General Assembly for action. They were all sent to the Permanent Administrative Committee and will be discussed and acted upon there. They will then make a recommendation to next year’s Assembly.
1. This year’s Assembly was without controversy. It was by far the most uneventful GA I have participated in during my seven or so years of attendance.
2. The action taken by the Assembly on the Insider Movement was expected and encouraging. The PCA continues to be a denomination marked by fidelity to the Scriptures.
3. It was a blessing to see our Review of Presbytery Records functioning rightly in its review and control. The RPR’s actions were significant and provided a welcomed check on some Presbytery actions.
4. Frankly, I was a little surprised and overjoyed to see the overwhelming vote on Paedocommunion. This issue came “out of nowhere” this year. The vote to note an exception regarding the Pacific Northwest Presbytery for its action of allowing a man, who held this view, to fully preach and teach such was more than overwhelming. It is my guess that 98% of the Assembly approved Review of Presbytery Record’s action.
5. The Rules of Assembly Operation change which now requires men to write their exceptions to the Westminster Standards in their own words is encouraging. The current practice in many presbyteries has been to have the chairman of candidates and credentials or the stated clerk of the Presbytery write down the man’s exceptions. This action now requires men to articulate their own position in their own words and allows the Review of Presbytery Records to review these exceptions more thoroughly.
6. The PCA’s membership and church numbers continue to grow. It is slow growth, but most denominations in this country are in a slow decline. Therefore, overall, this is encouraging.
1. From my limited view, it appears that the PCA is becoming more top-down than it has been. There has been a clear centralization of power in the past three years. The PCA approved a Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) a few years ago as part of the Strategic Plan. This committee is comprised of past Moderators of the GA and heads of the agencies and boards of the Assembly. The reason this committee was created was to provide a forum for “getting on the same page” and cooperation among these agencies. However, as we saw last year and continued to see this year, this committee has become the vision casting and policy shaping hub of the PCA. This year there were multiple overtures sent from courts of the church (Presbyteries) to the General Assembly and they were never heard on the floor. Instead, they were sent to the Administrative Committee and ultimately will end up in the CMC. The CMC will then come forward with a recommendation through the Administrative Committee. I am concerned that Presbyteries can and may lose their voice in this process.
2. Related to the first concern, it has also become clear over the past two years that a minority voice on an issue is becoming harder to hear. The new rules we adopted as an Assembly with the Strategic Plan have made it very hard if not impossible for a minority voice to be heard on issues. Overtures can be stymied in committees of commissioners and never make it to the floor for discussion. And the minority voice has no recourse. It has made the committee of commissioners much more important in the PCA.
3. The number of presbyters attending this year’s GA was down significantly. There were only about 1,000 commissioners present. It may be due to the fact that there was not a crucial issue before this year’s GA, but this is of some concern.
It was a very good Assembly. This year’s Assembly was not flashy or glamorous, but the work of the Church was done. The PCA continues to be a strong Reformed, Biblical, Presbyterian witness to the world. I am thankful for the Church and thankful to be a laborer in this particular portion of the vineyard. May the PCA continue to hold to its motto: Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.