In a few days, it will be December 4-7, 1998. Do you remember what you were doing twenty-five years ago on those dates?
This Editor remembers what he was doing twenty-five years ago. He was sitting at the press table at the very first General Assembly of what was called the Continuing Presbyterian Church, on assignment from the Covenant College Bagpipe.
Those were exciting days. Out of the social, political and ecclesiastical turmoil of the 1960s, a movement had arisen which purportedly would enable Southern Presbyterians to rediscover their roots. Tens of thousands were led out of the increasing apostasy of the Southern Presbyterian Church, in order to found a new denomination which would be "Faithful to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ."
No longer would there be cooperation with the National and World Councils of Churches. No longer would there be denominational publications which taught that truth is relative. No longer would there be the threat of female ordination or female leadership over men. No longer would the church flirt with Communism or its handmaid, the civil rights movement. No longer would there be experimental worship promoted by the home missions committee. No longer would people be sneered at when they made a Biblical argument on the floor of church courts.
Although the new church was not perfect, and although there was much room for improvement, it was thought that, at long last, we had a denomination which could be our home. We had a denomination which would respect the Bible not only as the Word of God, but also as authoritative: the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
So, as we approach our silver anniversary, how have we done?
Would it surprise you to know that, despite General Assembly action forbidding official cooperation with churches which belong to the National and World Councils of Churches, such cooperation has taken place at the General Assembly level?
Would it surprise you to know that an official denominational publication seems to suggest that truth is not fully objective?
Are you aware that an increasing number of young ordinands, trained at several of our well-respected seminaries, have no problem with ordaining women? Are you aware of the fact that women increasingly are assuming roles of leadership, including in public worship?
Would it shock you to know that church-sponsored events have lionized the civil rights movement? Or to know that, in a variety of settings, the PCA has sponsored celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
As for experimental worship-well, it would have been unthinkable in 1973 that a mere decade later, the committees responsible for a worship service at the General Assembly would have labored to incorporate a video as part of worship. It would have been unthinkable in 1973 that within two decades, worship held in conjunction with the General Assembly would have featured liturgical drama and ballet. It would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago that the home missions committee in 1998 would apparently not be able definitively to put a stop to liturgical dance, liturgical drama, video clips, and rock music in the public worship of mission churches under denominational sponsorship.
A three minute time limit on individual speeches has undercut the ability of presbyters to present intelligent Biblical and theological arguments on the floor of the Assembly. Increasing the amount of time given over to presentations by program committees has also been detrimental to serious discussion. But an impatience with men appealing to the Bible has perhaps been the cruelest blow to those who would seek conscientiously to do their duty.
We love the Presbyterian Church in America. The writer of this editorial was privileged to be her first ministerial candidate, and to write her first history. He had hoped that for this edition of the newspaper he could write an upbeat editorial, celebrating the noteworthy accomplishments of the denomination (of which there are many), and wishing her a "Happy 25th Birthday!"
But he finds that he loves her too much to pretend that all is well.
There are many good things about the PCA. But there are also serious threats to her survival as a legitimate manifestation of the Bride of Christ. Unless and until the grass roots of the church wake up to these dangers, and take appropriate action, we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past.
In 1843, Thomas Chalmers and his associates formed the Free Church of Scotland, in reaction to the apostasy of the established church. Within three generations, the vast majority of the Free Church had merged back into the mainline denomination. This was not because revival had brought about faithfulness in the Church of Scotland; it was because by 1929 the Free Church no longer was distinct from the liberal group.
The PCA is at a crossroads in her young life. If
decisive steps are taken now, we believe that she can be saved
from apostasy. That such measures would take place is our fervent
hope and prayer. For we look forward to being able to wish her
a "Happy 50th Birthday!", after the present controversies
are determined in accordance with our Biblical, Reformed faith.
The responses by the Mission to North America Committee and its representatives to Central Georgia Presbytery, in our opinion, illustrate that the MNA Committee, in many ways, is caught between a rock and a hard place-between a conservative grass roots, and a progressive wing which is funding and driving church plants.
As you may know, we have always welcomed what we call "Open Forum" pieces in our newspaper, whereby a reader may have up to one page (equivalent to about three typed pages) to pontificate on whatever he (or she) desires. We have particularly encouraged people with viewpoints which differ from ours to write. What we would like to do is to see if our readers can assist us in addressing the issues raised by the MNA responses.
Below you will find pairs of contrasting propositions which we believe fairly represent either a defense of or disagreement with the MNA Committee and its delegates. We would like to publish in the next edition of P&R News one or more contributions from our readers defending one or more of these propositions.
If anyone thinks that a proposition needs to be worded
differently, please feel free to do so. We look forward to hearing
Failure to prohibit practices of worship not found in the Confession of Faith and/or the Directory for Worship in MNA-sponsored mission churches goes contrary to the settled doctrine and stated mind of the church, and such failure is illegitimate for a General Assembly Committee. OR
Allowing a variety of expressions in the worship
of denominational-sponsored mission churches is perfectly legitimate,
even apart from specific sanction by the General Assembly.
In accordance with the regulative principle, the elements or practices of worship are fixed and unchanging. OR
The way we worship is determined by cultural considerations
and must be generationally-sensitive.
When worship is conducted in accordance with divine principles, God will use that worship to draw His elect to Himself. OR
What drives us in our church planting is the salvation
of the lost; accordingly, we use all means at our disposal to
Stating that speakers at MNA-sponsored events are merely expressing their own views and not an official MNA position is a manifestation of Christian liberty and an acceptable practice. OR
Stating that speakers at MNA-sponsored events
are merely expressing their own views and not an official MNA
position is irresponsible.
"Everyone at MNA holds to the 'regulative principle of worship'; however, what is meant by that principle is a matter of interpretation." This statement is EITHER:
Evidence that language has lost its meaning; OR
An example of sophisticated thinking by the MNA
Contemporary forms of worship (dance, drama, video clips, etc.) are examples of the type of experimental worship which was cited by the founders of the PCA as a sign of apostasy and just grounds for ecclesiastical separation. OR
It is unfair to compare our worship practices
with those of the liberals of the 1960s and 1970s, because, unlike
the liberals, we believe the gospel.