Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)-The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) had been relatively quiet and peaceful. But just prior to its early conclusion, the commissioners were jolted by the introduction of four protests and one objection.
A "protest" is a solemn declaration by one or more of a minority, expressing disagreement with an action by the court. An "objection" is employed by members of the court who did not have opportunity to vote on a judicial case. For close to an hour, the Assembly dealt with the emotion-laden matters.
The first protest was lodged by the Rev. Mr. Henry Johnson of Tazewell, Va., regarding the failure of the Assembly to receive a personal resolution with regard to the report that the Covenant College choir had sung in a Roman Catholic mass. The protest especially noted that the President of the school, Dr. Frank Brock, had admitted the previous evening that the incident occurred. The protest concluded: "We believe the Assembly was under obligation as a court of the church to investigate such a report in order either to maintain the good name of the parties involved, or to take appropriate action should the report be true." Upon motion by Mr. John White, parliamentarian and Moderator of the 1989 Assembly, the body authorized the Board of Trustees of Covenant College to answer the protest, with that response to be brought back to next year's Assembly.
The second protest was lodged against the conduct of public worship on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Read by the Rev. Mr. Gene Case of Woodville, Miss., the protest alleged that the worship was entertainment-oriented rather than truly worshipful. At the heart of the matter was the use of an orchestra on Tuesday night, and the use of a band on Thursday. The document does not question the motives of those responsible for the services, saying: "We do not believe the offense to have been intentional, nevertheless it is real." The protest also stated: "We further deplore the offering of applause in honour of men in that true worship should be focused on God." The protesters did acknowledge with gratitude the message given on Thursday night by the Rev. Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Louisville. The Rev. Mr. Mark Dalbey, who helped coordinate the services, proposed an answer to the protest, which answer the Assembly adopted. The answer to the protest stated that the worship was designed to be: 1. Reverent and joyful, drawing on the richness of the past and the freshness of the present; 2. Christ-centered and grace-centered gospel worship; 3. From the heart, according to the Word, to the glory of God, and for the edification of believers; and 4. Biblical content driven. The answer also stated that the purpose was "to present 1. excellence of musicianship drawing from the full Biblical repertoire of winds, strings and percussion, as well as the diverse giftedness of the PCA and Great Lakes Presbytery; 2. A Calvinistic Baptist preacher; 3. A woman gifted in song to enhance the content of Isaiah 6, and 4. Instruments to aid in the singing of Biblical praise to the triune God."
The third protest took exception to the fact that the Assembly vindicated its Mission to North America (MNA) Committee regarding the appearance of a woman at the church planters' conference in California in February, and the report that she had engaged in Biblical exposition and application, in apparent violation of the instruction given by the 1997 Assembly. The protesters, led by Mr. Dan Witcher of Bristol, Tenn., were concerned that the Assembly had given the MNA staff a clean bill without having bothered to consider evidence. The MNA Committee of Commissioners had access to a tape of one of the woman's addresses, but did not listen to it.
At that point, Dr. Will Barker registered an objection to one of the cases out of James River Presbytery. The Westminster Seminary professor objected to "the sustaining of James River Presbytery's disallowing of a man to teach his exception to the Westminster Standards." Dr. Barker stated: "It is certainly the prerogative of Presbytery to determine if a man's exceptions to the Standards violate the second ordination vow, in which case a man would not be acceptable for ordination in the PCA. A minister, however, must be free to teach what he believes the Scriptures teach if his exceptions are not deemed to violate his ordination vows. As WCF 20:2 says, "God alone is Lord of the conscience," and ministers are conscience-bound to teach the whole counsel of God. We must, therefore, be free to teach and preach what we understand the written Word of God to teach. . . ."
A fourth protest raised the issue of women addressing the court. The protest noted that this was the second consecutive Assembly at which the practice had occurred; and that, while many had remained silent on the issue last year, hoping that it was an "aberration," this year they felt compelled to bear testimony against the practice. The protest stated that historically, such a practice had been a prelude to female ordination. The protest also took exception to the fact that the incident had occurred without warning, and with no ability to consider the matter, nor to allow commissioners with conscientious objection to be excused formally from the meeting.
During the hour of dealing with these protests and this objection, one young ruling elder from Wilmington, N. C., attending his first Assembly, stood at a microphone. He stated that a "double-minded Assembly is unstable in all its ways."
Shortly after dealing with these matters, the Assembly approved the report of the Committee on Thanks, and sang Psalm 133 ("Behold, how good a thing it is And how becoming well When those that brethern are delight In unity to dwell.").