25th PCA General Assembly Convenes in Colorado Springs
Meeting for the first time in the Mountain Time Zone, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America elected a young attorney from Mississippi as its Moderator. In its opening session, it also heard the retiring Moderator give a "sobering warning . . . against embracing the idols of our culture": idols such as "modern techniques", "popularity", and "prosperity".
PCA Votes to Break Fraternal Ties with Christian Reformed Church
In an historic moment, the PCA General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to sever long-standing fraternal relations with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The vote came after the Assembly heard from CRC General Secretary David Engelhard denounced the PCA Interchurch Relations Committee report which claimed that the CRC is only "superficially orthodox." The primary issue cited as grounds for breaking relations was the CRC opening ruling and teaching church offices to women.
General Assembly Turns Back Attempt to Reconsider Vote on CRC
An attempt to reconsider the breaking of fraternal relations with the Christian Reformed Church was overwhelmingly rejected by the PCA Assembly. After the vote, the Rev. Mr. Tom Vanden Heuvel, Editor of The Outlook, a conservative publication that for a generation had sought to reform the CRC, spoke heartily in favor of the move to break ties with his mother church. A long-time CRC pastor, Vanden Heuvel is now a PCA church planter in Holland, MI.
Committee of Commissioners Hears Explanations from Interchurch Relations Committee
Each year, a committee of commissioners, with representation from the various presbyteries, evaluates the work of each of the permanent committees and agencies and certain of the special committees. The Interchurch Relations Committee of Commissioners heard a variety of explanations from IRC Chairman Dr. Robert Ashlock and from Stated Clerk Dr. Paul Gilchrist, an ex officio member of the IRC. Dr. Gilchrist spoke of a meeting with representatives of the Christian Reformed Church in May 1997, at which, according to Gilchrist, one of the officials acted the part of a "classical Dutch uncle". He also claimed that the PCA is going to be the next target for expulsion from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), an organization which the PCA spearheaded in 1975.
Assembly Responds to Overtures
Four presbytery overtures had called in question the actions of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC), particularly with regard to the failure of the IRC delegation to present a motion to remove the Christian Reformed Church from membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) in November 1996, and the vote by the delegation in favor of the admittance to NAPARC of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a denomination which allows the ordination of women to all ecclesiastical office. The Assembly accepted the explanation of the IRC, and also accepted its apology in terms of the way it had handled the CRC matter at NAPARC. The Assembly voted to instruct the IRC not to vote in favor of the EPC being admitted to NAPARC, unless the EPC changes its official position on women's ordination. The Assembly delicately sidestepped directly addressing the "Whereas" clauses of the overtures, as well as allegations in the IRC report with regard to the presbyteries.
Assembly Turns Away Effort to Study Continental Reformed Standards
The Interchurch Relations Committee had recommended a study of the Three Forms of Unity, the historic standards of Dutch Calvinists, in order that the PCA might appreciate the compatibility of those creeds with the Westminster Standards. However, on motion from the floor, the court voted to call upon churches and elders which presently hold to the Three Forms of Unity to study the Westminster Standards in order to appreciate the unity which is already enjoyed.
Rotation of Delegates Approved
Despite the fact that last year's Assembly had instructed the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) not to bring back the question of the rotation of fraternal delegates unless an agreement was reached through NAPARC, the IRC brought it back again even without an agreement having been reached.
Former IRC Chairman Seeks to Defend Delegation's Actions
The Rev. Mr. Henry Lewis Smith, who had been Chairman of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) last year, sought to defend the IRC's delegation to NAPARC. In doing so, he claimed that Stated Clerk Paul Gilchrist had been "subjected to a great deal of pressure from some of the delegations to delay this action" to remove the CRC from NAPARC.
Response from NAPARC Delegations
In an effort to try to discover the identity of the "some delegations" which allegedly put a great deal of pressure on Dr. Paul Gilchrist (see story above), we contacted virtually every member of the NAPARC delegations (except from the CRC and PCA). We also were interested in their reaction to the claim by Dr. Gilchrist that the PCA would next be targeted to be expelled from NAPARC. Here are their responses.
Assembly Approves Most Amendments, Turns Down Voting Age Proposal
With very little debate, the 25th PCA General Assembly adopted seven of the eight Book of Church Order amendments that had been approved last year and subsequently approved by the presbyteries. Included in the amendments approved were several dealing with judicial procedures, and with removal of a person from the membership roll of a church.
New BCO Amendment Approved, Sent to Presbyteries
A new amendment to the church's Constitution, with regard to dealing with church members who have joined some other church, was approved.
News Office Transferred to Administrative Committee
For the first time in about a decade, there will be a serious attempt to have a news office at the General Assembly level.
PCA to 'Celebrate the Child'
Having investigated over the past year if a proposal to 'Celebrate the Child' would identify the PCA in some way with humanist organizations, particularly the United Nations, the Christian Education and Publications Committee concluded that there was no such connection. It accordingly brought in a similar recommendation to what it had proposed to last year's Assembly. This year, it passed without controversy.
Women and Creation Hot Topics for Presbytery Records Report
The 25th PCA Assembly voted that women should not lead in prayer nor read Scripture in the organizational service for a congregation. It also voted not to take exception to a presbytery's minutes for that presbytery having licensed a man who holds to a poetic account of Genesis 1, but not having exhorted the man not to teach that view.
In Other Action Dealing with Presbytery Records . . .
The 25th General Assembly dealt with exceptions by ordinations and licentiates. It also took Mid-America to task for accepting a minister who "stated that he had not fully read all of the PCA subordinate standards."
Confusion Regarding Appearance Before Review Committee
The request by a PCA minister to appear before the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (CRPR) turned into a political football. Despite the fact that the Committee on Constitutional Business finally ruled that he could, Constitutionally-speaking, appear and make a presentation, that decision came too late for him to be able to do so.
Bills and Overtures Committee Has Short Agenda
The shortest agenda for the Bills and Overtures Committee in PCA history dealt with proposed amendments to the Book of Church Order, the now-scuttled 'gender-neutral' New International Version of the Bible (see separate story), and the issue of women in combat (see separate story).
'Gender-Inclusive' NIV Taken to Task
The 25th PCA General Assembly said that the proposed 'gender-inclusive' edition of the New International Version (NIV) is "inconsistant with the Biblical doctrine of divine inspiration." The NIV is used extensively by the PCA, both at the local level and in publications sponsored by the denomination's Christian Education and Publications Committee.
'Women in Combat' Issue Shot Down in Flames
Last year's General Assembly expressed "grave concern" over the prospect of the U.S. government sending women into combat, and asked Philadelphia Presbytery to send in a more detailed overture than it had in 1996 dealing with the issue. This year, the General Assembly declined to adopt any expression of official opposition to women in combat.
General Assembly Approves Covenant College's New Chapel Guidelines
In early 1996 a guest lecturer at Covenant College displayed nude pictures of Christ in the lobby of the chapel and showed nude pictures during a slide show at an "assembly chapel". Last year's General Assembly had instructed the Covenant College Board "to review the current policies and practices regarding visiting speakers and student chapels to further safeguard against recurrence of this kind of incident." This year's Assembly approved the Statement of Policy adopted by the college board, which includes this statement: "Occasionally . . . it will be our disagreement in perspective or belief that will challenge us to encounter our biblical faith at more depth." The Statement also says: "No invitation to address the college constitutes automatic endorsement of any speaker's views, in whole or in part. In fact, at times it is precisely our presumed disagreement that justifies the appearance of the speaker. Those who assume such endorsement by the college are mistaken."
GA Delays SJC Judgments on Two Cases, Approves the Others
Utilizing a provision of the Book of Church Order never used before, the General Assembly twice referred recommended judgments of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) to a study committee to evaluate if they are constitutional. Without controversy, the Assembly approved all other judgments, including those dealing with theonomy and with Freemasonry.
GA Votes Down Judgment on Charismatic Case, Approves Judgment in Divorce Case
For only the second time in the history of the PCA, and for the first time in dealing with a recommendation of the Standing Judicial Commission, the General Assembly rejected a proposed judgment on a complaint against the approval for ordination by Mississippi Valley Presbytery of a man who is involved in charismatic-type activity and whose views regarding the 'special gifts' were found to be out of accord with the PCA's standards.
SJC Amends Its Manual, But is Forced to Drop Section on Memorials
Members of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) cut a behind-the-scenes deal to prevent a floor fight on the propriety of modifications to the SJC Manual which the SJC had, unilaterally, adopted.
Leadership Change at PCA Foundation
After sixteen years of service at the PCA Foundation, Ruling Elder John W. S. "Jack" Hudson last year decided to step down and be involved in "a broader role involving the stewardship of life rather than exclusively the stewardship of assets." Taking over temporarily as the Interim President is Ruling Elder Stanley J. Riordan.
Ridge Haven Report Focuses on Public Role of Women
The usually quiet Ridge Haven Committee of Commissioners had to deal with an examination of the public role of women at the denominational conference and camp center.
New Metro Presbytery Erected
A new presbytery for the New York City area was approved by the 25th General Assembly, bringing the total number of PCA presbyteries to 57. The new court covers portions of three states. The "Proposed Statement of Purpose", which was adopted by those pushing for the new presbytery, stated that there were several "theological convictions [which] strongly inform us as we unite to form a presbytery." Among the statements which follow is this: "The Reformed understanding of the gospel prevents us from falling into either legalism or license, into either a traditional conservatism or a naive liberalism. . . ."
Decision on Reformed University Ministries Delayed for a Year
The General Assembly delayed for a year a decision as to whether or not Reformed University Ministries would be a separate committee or agency from Mission to North America.
Exceptions Taken to MNA's Minutes
Among the exceptions taken to the Mission to North America (MNA) minutes was that there is no evidence that the MNA Committee adopted the report to the 1997 Assembly. Included in that report is the notion that the multicultural church planter must, if he has a congregation of rich people, speak of "social justice", without defining what is meant by that term.
MNA Instructed on Women's Leadership
The General Assembly, while turning down an overture from New Jersey Presbytery which had expressed concerns about women leading in Mission to North America-sponsored seminars, nevertheless instructed the MNA Committee that "the ministry of women within the church, including MNA, must be within the bounds of Scripture, including I Timothy 2:11-15."
MTW Report Passes with Barely a Ripple of Discussion
With virtually no discussion, General Assembly passed the Mission to the World report. The only discussion centered around continuing questions regarding the church planting team in Madrid.
Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Options Gives Possibly Shortest Report in Assembly History
Pastor Dominic Aquila, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Options, gave what could go down as the shortest committee report on the floor of any General Assembly. One of the two motions he presented was that his committee be dissolved.
Editorials: Breathing Fresh Air in the Rockies; The 'Year of the Woman'
Letters to the Editor: Our newspaper's readers respond
Presbyteries: reports from the following courts:
Central Carolina, Covenant, Northeast, Northern California, Potomac, Southern Florida