St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-The 26th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America gave a standing ovation to its retiring Stated Clerk, Dr. Paul Gilchrist, this morning. Commissioners to the Assembly also gave more tangible expression to their appreciation: a beautiful plaque, and a check to assist Dr. Gilchrist and his wife in returning to Scotland for a visit.
Upon the presentation of the plaque, the Clerk said: "I just want to rejuvenate with my grandchildren, and grow spiritually." He added: "The Lord has sustained us and blessed us. . . . Thank you so much, you've been a rich blessing. We will remember and cherish this moment for a long time."
Joining Dr. and Mrs. Gilchrist on the platform were members of his family, both children and grandchildren.
The court also answered in the affirmative several
presbytery overtures which likewise expressed appreciation for
the Stated Clerk's ten years of service to the denomination. Later,
during the Interchurch Relations Committee report, the Assembly
thanked him for his labors in interchurch relations, noting especially
his work in conjunction with the World Fellowship of Reformed
Churches on behalf of persecuted Christians, and commending him
for a job well done.
St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-Since at least 1993, the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) report has been the focus of significant controversy. This year, a unanimous and a virtual unanimous vote from the IRC Committee of Commissioners on two controversial overtures helped prevent the same type of rancorous debate which previous Assemblies have witnessed.
At last year's Assembly, four presbyteries had overtured to ask for a full investigation of actions by the IRC with regard to the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. Those four overtures focused on the failure of the IRC to present in a timely fashion a motion before NAPARC regarding the removal of the Christian Reformed Church from that conciliar body; and on the affirmative vote by the PCA delegation for the admittance of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In response, the IRC had used Scriptural sayings against those four presbyteries. This year, Northeast and Ascension Presbyteries, offended by the terminology employed by the IRC, had sought a redress of the situation.
An effort at harmony prevailed in the IRC Committee of Commissioners, which voted, with the concurrence of representatives of those presbyteries, to note that last year's Assembly had expressed its confidence that the IRC had acted in good faith; to express regret at the language used, including "what could be described as deliberate distortions of the truth"; and to urge that the parties work toward reconciliation.
However, not every proposal of the Committee of Commissioners sailed through. Objection was raised to the Committee of Commissioners (C of C) wanting to take exception to the Permanent Committee's minutes for having an alternate serve as Chairman and vote, even though his presence was not necessary to constitute a quorum. A previous General Assembly had taken exception to another committee's minutes for that violation. But on motion from the floor, the matter was committed to the Committee on Constitutional Business.
Re-committed to the Permanent IRC was the matter of ecclesial relations. The 1997 Assembly had instructed the IRC to work on various categories of relationships which the denomination might have with other churches. In carrying out this assignment, the IRC had proposed four categories, with the Assembly to vote directly only on the establishing of "fraternal relations." The C of C recommended that the Assembly should have a direct say in whether it wanted to enter into relations with any church at any level. Questions and concerns about the implications of inter-communion and pulpit exchange led one commissioner to ask that the matter be referred back for clarification. With the support of TE Rick Perrin, Chair of the Permanent Committee, the Assembly agreed.
The Assembly declined to receive two position papers
from the National Association of Evangelicals, but did refer them
to Christian Education and Publications for study.
St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-The 26th General Assembly, overwhelmingly, indicated its support of New Jersey Presbytery in allowing that views of Genesis 1 other than six literal days did not constitute a violation of the Westminster Standards. The standing vote, which was not counted, was estimated by observers to be by a margin of at least 3 to 1.
In most judicial cases, the General Assembly no longer votes, but rather leaves the judgment to the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). However, under new rules adopted last year, if one-third or more of the voting members of the SJC file a minority report, the Assembly must hear both majority and minority opinions and, without debate, vote on them. In this case, the SJC had voted 12-9 to uphold New Jersey's position; and the nine dissenters had forced the issue by filing a minority report.
Leading off the debate was SJC Chairman John White, who stated that the real issues are two-fold: Did New Jersey Presbytery violate the Constitution in interpreting our standards?; and, What is the proper way of amending the church's Constitution? Mr. White stated that the PCA and predecessor denominations "have affirmed a variety of interpretations" of the confessional phrase, "in the space of six days." Referring to the three major views in the PCA-literal day, day age, and framework hypothesis--he contended that all three are within the parameters of the Confession of Faith. He further stated that "amending the Standards through judicial process is an unconstitutional way to amend the Constitution."
Dr. Paul Fowler, who professed to believe in a young earth, urged caution in insisting that the word "day" is used "so clearly and unambiguously . . . in Scripture and . . . in the Westminster Standards that it can only hold one interpretation." And Dr. Dominic Aquila stated that "if the language is so plain"-as maintained in the minority report-"we would not be here today." He also mentioned that other Reformed bodies, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, were wrestling with the very same issue.
Starting off for the minority was TE David Hall of Oak Ridge, TN, who argued that "our view is . . . simple and . . . straightforward." Challenging the notion that there were some in the Westminster Assembly who held that "in the space of six days" meant anything other than a reference to six literal days, Mr. Hall offered two "hard-to-get Cardinal tickets" to anyone who could cite a Westminster divine who adhered to a contrary view.
Attorney Dale Peacock spoke of the "fatal flaws" in the majority's position. Contrary to Augustine's view of instantaneous creation, Mr. Peacock said, "our Westminster divines adopted a position." He spoke of the fact that when the PCA was formed in 1973, it had adopted the same doctrinal position of the Westminster Assembly; and he added: "Twenty five years later, we have a doctrine created by New Jersey Presbytery," which the SJC says "they had a right to create, and that this doctrine is compatible with past renderings of the General Assembly." Averring that "the majority has erred grievously," the lawyer used Senator Samuel Ervin's terminology to refer to the SJC's position on the Confession of Faith: "judicial verbicide."
David Hall concluded the thirty minutes allotted to the minority by demonstrating that numerous participants in the Westminster Assembly adhered to the days of Genesis 1 being literal days. To interpret the Westminster Standards differently "is a blatant historical revisionism." Mr. Hall continued: "In the shadow of Busch Stadium, let me say that Charles Hodge and Warfield were the Babe Ruth and Mark Magwire of their day. But even Mark Magwire hits a foul ball occasionally." He warned that if the Assembly voted with the majority: "You won't get this vote back. This [case] will always be cited as a precedent."
Jack Williamson gave a ten minute rebuttal for the majority. He contended that the phrase "space of six days" does not preclude a day of long ages. He stated: "Beware of letting the SJC make Constitutional changes by judicial fiat." Attorney Williamson rhetorically asked: "Is this a proper forum . . . to decide the meaning of the six days of creation? The SJC was formed to decide cases. This is an abstract constitutional issue." Quoting from Book of Church Order 11, he stated that "every court has the right to resolve questions of doctrine."
After a few moments of silent prayer, with Moderator
Kennedy Smartt concluding with a brief oral prayer, the court
cast its momentous vote. Almost immediately, the anticipated recording
of negative votes on the majority report and affirmative votes
on the minority report began.
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