Louisville, Kentucky (June 15, 1999)-Kennedy Smartt used his retiring moderator's sermon this evening to call the General Assembly to look back, look around, and look ahead. His message, entitled "Passing the Torch," was based on Joshua 1:1-9.
The text speaks of a time when Moses was dead. "God required Joshua to look back and reflect on this leader." In a similar way, Dr. Smartt named several of the key people in the founding of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) who had also passed on, including: Aiken Taylor (Editor of the Presbyterian Journal), Bill Hill (founder of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship), Leon Hendrick (Moderator of the Third Assembly and a judge in Jackson, Miss.), John Richards (who left his pastorate to work on behalf of the Continuing Presbyterian Church movement), Ken Keyes (leader in Concerned Presbyterians, Inc.), and Don Patterson.
The mentioning of Dr. Patterson was especially apropos, since the 1998 Assembly had named him as an Honorary Moderator. His illness prevented him from attending the Assembly; he was taken home to be with the Lord in December of last year. With his friend, Don Patterson, being unable to serve, Kennedy Smartt was tapped for the post.
The retiring Moderator called the commissioners to "say a resounding 'Yes' to evangelism and world evangelization, and . . . to the Reformed faith in all of its strength and purity." He exhorted the worshippers to a "personal pursuit of holiness and renewal," and a "sacrificial giving, going and praying for world evangelization."
In terms of Looking Around, Dr. Smartt recounted the children of Israel experiencing the rolling away of the reproach of Egypt at Gilgal. "Many of us are too young to remember the days of former denominational connections," declared the veteran of ecclesiastical wars. Unbelief, godlessness, faithlessness to ordination vows, liberalism, syncretism, and the replacement of the gospel with a social gospel were tolerated for many years. But when the PCA was formed in 1973, "We were out and the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away from us." With this relief comes responsibility; as a denomination, "God had laid upon us a charge, to be strong and very courageous."
In terms of Looking Ahead, the Moderator said that God had promised to give the Israelites every place where they set their feet. Today, "God has promised us the power of the Holy Spirit for every task."
Dr. Smartt averred that "if we're not faithful to the Great Commission, our orthodoxy becomes heresy. . . . Nothing kills like dead orthodoxy." He continued: "Many of us are fishing in a bathtub. We're preaching to the choir. Jesus did not say, Sit and wait in all the world, He said, Go into all the world and preach the gospel. . . . God sends us out!"
The preacher also touched upon personal morality. He called upon anyone listening tonight who was involved in either an emotional or physical adulterous relationship to repent of that sin.
Kennedy Smartt concluded by saying that "if we do not rededicate, re-consecrate, our lives here tonight, we will die. If we do not remember our history and the rock from which we were hewn, we're going to die." He exhorted the commissioners to plant their feet on the promises of God.
In the middle of the sermon, Dr. Smartt, declaring that it was "time for a commercial break," announced that the denominational anniversary book, published last year, was going to be on sale for this year's Assembly. Following the address, the sacrament of communion was served, administered by Dr. L. Roy Taylor, Assembly Stated Clerk