A Really Good Assembly

For about a decade or so, we have had serious concerns about the direction of our beloved denomination. Starting especially in the mid-1980s, the General Assemblies, in our estimation, have often not reflected a genuine interest in our Presbyterian faith.

But over the past two or three years, we have detected a subtle, yet definite shift in the prevailing winds. And the 26th Assembly, we believe, provided ample evidence that change for the better is a-comin'.

On Interchurch Relations, the Assembly expressed regret for the terminology used by the Interchurch Relations Committee in 1997 with regard to several presbyteries. Just as significantly, the Assembly apparently indicated its desire to change the flavor of the IRC, by electing a strongly-Reformed man over a long-time committee member.

On Creation, the Assembly approved the appointment of an eleven man committee to study the whole matter. It is our hope and expectation that that committee will bring in a solid report next year, affirming that anything other than creation in six literal days is an exception to our Standards; and re-affirming an original PCA understanding-that Genesis 1-11 must be understood as teaching history.

With regard to Mission to North America, the Assembly turned down Northern California's request for extension of boundaries. Regarding the New Song-Salt Lake situation, the court, while denying the overture from Central Georgia, took that action based on certain understandings expressed in a memo which MNA personnel had felt compelled to write. And, with Central Georgia's concerns being remanded to the presbytery, that lower court has the upper hand in forcing full disclosure of what exactly went on in Utah and who was responsible for it.

The Assembly, astoundingly, voted against taking up a special offering on Mother's Day for Mission to North America. We are not certain for the reason why a clear majority would vote against what might have seemed to some as a routine request, but we believe that the outcome is reflective of our Puritan heritage and its aversion to special holy days.

Regarding women-in-combat, the Assembly acceded to Philadelphia Presbytery's request for a study committee. While the outcome of that committee's report is not known, it would appear that the very appointment of such a committee presages a strong statement against employing females in combat roles.

Regarding women leading in prayer and reading Scripture in public worship, the Assembly, decisively, spoke its mind. Referring to I Corinthians 14:34 (". . . let women keep silence in the churches"), I Timothy 2:11-15 (". . . I do not suffer a woman to usurp authority over a man . . ."), and the Larger Catechism Q/A 155-159 (which section teaches that the reading and the preaching of the Word are official, ministerial-type functions), the court stated definitively that distaff leadership in public worship is not acceptable.

We view a meeting as successful when we vote with the majority on almost every issue. We also view it as a success when there is a respectful atmosphere for serious, heart-felt debate. And such was the case this year.

We credit the Moderator, Kennedy Smartt, with helping to facilitate the good-natured spirit of the proceedings. And we credit the commissioners, who, we believe, reacted against what they saw as dangerous trends and determined to move in a conservative and Reformed direction. And that's why we regard this as a really good Assembly.

But on the Other Hand . . .

Of course, it was not a perfect meeting. Our most profound disappointment came with the vote not to sustain the complaint regarding Creation. The Assembly did not uphold the historic understanding of the Confession of Faith's phrase, "in the space of six days." More importantly, the Assembly apparently acquiesced in the position of the Standing Judicial Commission majority, viz., that New Jersey Presbytery had not violated the Constitution since it had exercised its prerogative in interpreting the Constitution.

With that logic, any interpretation of the Constitution could not be held to be in error. As a matter of fact, the reasoning manifest by the SJC majority is very much akin to that found in the Mansfield Kaseman case. In the 1981 Kaseman case (UPCUSA), regarding a minister who denied fundamental Christian doctrines, a presbytery was sustained in receiving him because it followed proper procedure and had not violated the Constitution in examining him.

The inherent danger should be evident to all. It does no good to have doctrinally-sound documents if the church does not have the will to enforce them-even though that enforcement may mean determining that a lower court has misinterpreted them.

While that vote on the SJC report on Wednesday of the Assembly was discouraging, we were encouraged by the willingness of the Assembly the next day to study the doctrine of Creation. We trust that the good instincts of a majority of our denomination will prevail.