'Meet Me in St. Louis'
PCA Silver Anniversary Celebration Set for Show-Me State
Creation, MNA Controversy, Women's Issues, and Interchurch
Top the Agenda
For the second time in its relatively young history, the Presbyterian Church in America will be conducting its General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. The previous meeting in the Gateway City was in 1985.
Highlighting the agenda will be the 25th Anniversary Celebration. The PCA was founded in 1973 by separatists from the Southern Presbyterian Church.
Three noted PCA ministers will be preaching on each of the three phrases of the PCA's original motto. Dr. James Montgomery will speak on the theme, "True to the Scriptures"; Dr. Morton H. Smith on the theme, "True to the Reformed Faith"; and Dr. Frank Barker on the theme, "Obedient to the Great Commission."
Utilizing the theme of "Celebrating the Past, Claiming the Future, Under God," the 25th Anniversary Committee has arranged for special presentations by the denomination's committees and agencies. Also on the docket are panel discussions which will feature various topics: "Origins of the PCA"; "Ebenezer: What the Lord has Done!"; and "Whither Bound? What of the Future."
But not all the proceedings will necessarily be celebratory. The business sessions are slated to be full of controversial items.
The doctrine of creation is the subject of several presbytery overtures. Central Carolina and Westminster have overtured the court to establish a study committee, particularly focusing on the question of the "days" of Genesis 1. Westminster has also sent up a declaration that it will not receive or ordain any man who does not affirm that the six days of creation were literal days. Helping to fuel the debate is a letter from President Bryan Chapell of Covenant Theological Seminary, in which he maintains that the question of the days of creation should be a matter of liberty.
Church planting in the West is the subject of four presbytery overtures. Northern California is asking for a doubling of its territory. Central Georgia has overtured the Assembly to oppose that proposal; and to look into PCA home missions efforts, particularly allegations of various irregularities in Utah. Grace Presbytery has indicated to the Assembly its support of Central Georgia's positions.
For the third consecutive year, the question of women in combat will be before the Assembly, via overture from Philadelphia Presbytery. Last year, the Assembly voted down Philadelphia's position against female combatants. This year, instead of a sweeping declaration on the issue, Philadelphia has focused on several particular issues, and is asking for a study committee to help clarify Biblical teaching on the subject.
Interchurch Relations continues to be a controversial committee. Four presbyteries had overtured the 1997 Assembly, asking for investigation of why the PCA delegation to the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council had not proposed the immediate expulsion of the Christian Reformed Church from that body. In response, the Permanent Committee on Interchurch Relations used Scriptural sayings against those four presbyteries. Two of those courts, Northeast and Ascension, are coming back this year and asking the Assembly for a redress of the situation.
Also to be considered by the General Assembly will be the election of a new Stated Clerk. After ten years of service, Dr. Paul Gilchrist is retiring from that post. Nominated by the Administrative Committee to take his place is Dr. Roy Taylor, presently a faculty member at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. At least three presbytery overtures express commendation of Dr. Gilchrist's work.
Other items of business include the following. Ascension Presbytery is overturing the Assembly to declare "that the Roman Catholic Church [RCC] is not a true Biblical Christian church" and to call "upon all members of the RCC who profess the true biblical Christian faith to come out of the RCC and join the PCA or some other similar biblical church." Ascension also wants to add a new Constitutional question for people joining the church, namely, "Do you promise to make diligent use of all the means of grace which Christ, through His Church, has provided?"
New River Presbytery is asking that the Rules for Assembly Operation be changed so as to allow all committees and agencies of the Assembly to present their own nominees to the Nominating Committee. Currently, only certain agencies have that privilege.
Central Florida Presbytery is proposing that a new North Florida Presbytery be formed out of its territory.
Eastern Carolina wants private vendors to be able to sell their wares at General Assembly booths.
Potomac Presbytery is asking for several Book of Church Order changes on a variety of topics: clarifying the status of a pastoral search committee; clarifying the circumstances for having a special meeting of presbytery; and clarifying the status of a minister without call who has moved within the bounds of a presbytery. Southeast Louisiana's solution for a minister without call who moves into the bounds of another presbytery is to provide for associate membership in the presbytery.
Two overtures which were not adopted by their respective presbyteries have made their way to the Assembly this year. Bedford (NS) Presbyterian Church could not convince Eastern Canada Presbytery that there should be congregational vow to deacons to obey them. New Life Presbyterian Church failed, 13-16, to have Pittsburgh Presbytery endorse a change in the Book of Church Order which would allow people who, through extraordinary circumstance, not currently on the roll of any evangelical church to partake of the Lord's Supper.
Heritage Presbytery wants the Assembly to stop publishing personal information of ministers in the denominational Yearbook. And Central Carolina Presbytery wants the BCO amended so that nominations for office would close at least one month prior to the election.
Committees for the 26th General Assembly will begin
meeting on Monday, June 29th, with the Assembly itself convening
the next day with the customary communion service. The meeting
is scheduled to adjourn on July 3rd.