Tampa, Florida (June 19, 2000)-Some General Assemblies
are rather quiet, ho-hum affairs. The 28th General Assembly of
the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), however, promises to
be anything but boring. Potentially-explosive issues-even some
which may result in significant ecclesiastical impact-abound.
By far, the most important discussion will revolve around women's
issues. Here is a sampling of the issues.
Two presbyteries-Potomac and Mississippi Valley-have overtured the General Assembly to amend the Book of Church Order in order explicitly to prohibit female preaching. The issue of women preaching has been a hot one in the PCA, ever since it was revealed that women have filled the pulpit at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, a prominent PCA church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Senior Pastor of that congregation, the Rev. John Wood, became the subject of judicial charges brought by several PCA presbyteries. Last July, after his own presbytery (Tennessee Valley) did not act in the matter, Western Carolina, Calvary, and Ascension Presbyteries petitioned the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction and try the case. Since that time, Eastern Carolina and James River Presbyteries also petitioned for original jurisdiction.
The Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) ruled the judicial matter "out of order." The SJC argued that since a Session has authority over the conduct of public worship, concern over the conduct of that worship must be directed to the Session itself. The SJC also argued that Tennessee Valley Presbytery had "acted" in the matter when it allegedly investigated the situation.
Louisiana Presbytery, however, is not satisfied
with the outcome of that judicial case; and it is asking that
the 28th General Assembly condemn the judgment in the John Wood
matter. Louisiana Presbytery is also asking that Tennessee Valley
Presbytery be disciplined for its toleration of women preaching
within its bounds. No fewer than eight presbyteries have weighed
in on the issue of women preaching, all of them seeking the termination
of the practice.
The denominational Mission to North America (MNA)
Committee is proposing that non-ordained people, including women,
be allowed to address mixed groups so long as that is not during
public worship. MNA was given the assignment to study the matter,
after it was reported that in February 1999, a woman gave two
addresses to a church planters conference in California. This
activity appeared to some to violate the instruction of the 1997
General Assembly, which stated: "Seminars led by women on
biblical and theological exposition will have women as the intended
audience. . . ." Last year's MNA Committee of Commissioners,
which is to exercise oversight of the Permanent MNA Committee,
declined to listen to a tape containing one of the lady's addresses.
Instead, the Committee recommended, and the Assembly adopted,
a vindication of the MNA staff.
The committee studying the women in combat issue
is asking that it be given another year in order to perfect its
On the eve of the 1999 General Assembly, it was reported that a choir from Covenant College, the denominational school in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, had twice sung in a Roman Catholic mass in Eastern Europe. A protest was lodged at the end of the Assembly regarding the failure of the Assembly to take appropriate action regarding this incident. The Covenant College board was authorized to pen a response to the protest, for presentation to the 2000 General Assembly. [con't.]
The answer to the protest declined to condemn the
participation in the mass. Westminster Presbytery has overtured
the Assembly to reject that answer, and to instruct the college
that such participation is inappropriate.
For two years, the Creation Study Committee (CSC)
has labored to try to find a denominational consensus, particularly
with respect to the meaning of the word "day" in Genesis
1 and of the phrase "in the space of six days" in the
confessional standards. The CSC is reporting its findings, and
recommending that no particular action be considered by the Assembly
for at least another two years, in order to give the church time
to study the report.
In early May, South Coast adopted an overture, asking
for the discipline of Central Florida Presbytery for its apparently
blatant disregard of due process. The controversy stems from
the Rev. Dr. Mark Futato's renunciation of the jurisdiction of
the PCA in 1999, just prior to the filing of judicial charges
against him in South Coast Presbytery. Later that year, he moved
from Westminster Theological Seminary in California to Reformed
Theological Seminary in Orlando. In April 2000, he was received
by Central Florida Presbytery, without that court having informed
South Coast of the situation.
At present, there are 58 presbyteries (including 7 which are Korean language courts). If overtures from Northeast and Westminster Presbyteries pass, the total number of presbyteries will be 61.
The proposal from Northeast would dissolve the present presbytery, and create three new ones: Southern New England, Northern New England, and New York State. The proposal marks another example of a recent move toward smaller presbyteries. The Southern New England Presbytery would have twelve churches and mission works, with 1445 communicant members; the Northern New England Presbytery would have nine churches, mission works, and core groups with 490 communicants; and the New York State Presbytery would have at least nine churches and missions with 1329 communicants. According to denominational guidelines, the ideal minimal size for a new presbytery is that of ten churches, 1000 members, and at least three churches with 125 members or more. Southern New England would meet these guidelines. New York State would meet the guidelines with the addition of the Presbyterian Church of Wellsville, New York (which would be added if Ascension goes along with the cession of territory). Northern New England, however, would fall considerably short with regard to church membership.
More significant for the future unity of the denomination is the proposed division of Westminster Presbytery. Long seen as the most conservative in the PCA, Westminster, which has straddled the states of Virginia and Tennessee, was one of the first four PCA presbyteries.
A unique feature of the proposal would be that churches and ministers on either side of the state line could choose with which presbytery they wish to affiliate: a continuing Westminster Presbytery in the Old Dominion, or a new presbytery in the northeastern part of the Volunteer State. The overture itself candidly admits that it is theology, rather than geography, which is driving the proposed division.
The result will be two presbyteries which will be
defined doctrinally, rather than according to geographical borders.
Historically, the acceptance of such "elective affinity"
presbyteries in other Presbyterian denominations has presaged
the eventual division of the denomination.
Other issues to watch:
*freedom of the press (two overtures are opposing Presbyterian & Reformed News);
*a proposal to make the Directory for Worship fully Constitutional;
*a proposed new office building in the Atlanta area for the denominational offices;
*the proposal to establish Reformed University
Ministries (RUM) as a separate Permanent Committee.
PINS extends a cordial invitation! Presbyterian International News Service hereby invites its critics and its friends to an open house (cash bar) at the Marriott Waterside, meeting room #1, on Tuesday, upon recess of the Assembly (10:00 PM). Y'all come!